Law, Morality, Ethics & Bishops
Whilst the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse makes progress in its meticulous and disturbing investigations into allegations and instances of child sexual abuse, within the Catholic Church here the issue also has a significant international dimension.
At the beginning of February, a new Vatican information manual for new bishops was published. Among other things it advised the bishops on how to respond to allegations of clerical child sexual abuse: "According to the state of civil laws of each country where reporting is obligatory, it is not necessarily the duty of the bishop to report suspects to authorities, the police or state prosecutors in the moment when they are made aware of crimes or sinful deeds." [Bolding added] (1)
A week later, Cardinal Patrick O’Malley, who had just convened a meeting of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, issued a strong statement not only contradicting the directive to the bishops but stating that they have a moral obligation to report clergy identified as child sexual abusers regardless of the reporting laws of civil jurisdictions [Bolding added]:
"Our obligations under civil law must certainly be followed, but even beyond these civil requirements, we all have a moral and ethical responsibility to report suspected abuse to the civil authorities who are charged with protecting our society," O'Malley said in a statement Feb. 15. (2)
Cardinal O’Malley’s decisive executive intervention came within a matter of weeks after receiving the fourth attempted communication from Catholics for Renewal Chairman Peter Johnstone in which the Cardinal was reminded that mandatory reporting of clerical child sexual abusers was not simply a Canonical matter but a moral imperative based on the explicit teaching of Jesus Christ . This correspondence was referred to in the February editorial:
“Catholics for Renewal has written to Cardinal Sean O’Malley as President of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors protesting against the Church's immoral protection of paedophiles from the law, resulting in continuing exposure of children to abuse. The Cardinal has, after many follow-ups, included our correspondence in the planning for the current Plenary Meeting of the Pontifical Commission, “in order that the full body can discuss the matters presented in the correspondence.” It is a matter of considerable urgency that the Holy See should leave no doubt as to the responsibility of bishops to ensure that clerical paedophiles are reported to the police.” (3)
This not only cuts right across the canonical provisions of Canon Law but entirely reverses the intentions of the original legislator, Pius XI and all the Popes who have succeeded him, with the exception of JP I. Subsequently, Archbishop Charles Scicluna, formerly a principal spokesman for the Holy See at the UN and noted for his public mental reservations and avoidance over the provisions of the Pontifical Secret, has now come out in support of O’Malley in the same unambiguous terms. ++Scicluna is also a civil lawyer so it is entirely possible that he has thought this way all along but has been constrained to follow official policy at the cost of his personal and professional integrity. (4)
On the return flight to Rome from Mexico on February 18, Pope Francis told journalists, "A bishop who moves a priest to a different parish if he detects a case of paedophilia is without conscience and the best thing for him to do would be to resign." (5)
Both high ranking bishops have now unambiguously contradicted the legislation governing the Pontifical Secret. It is now highly likely that Pope Francis will either publicly signal the excision of the secret from Canon Law or simply extend an already existing exemption to all the bishops of the world. It will be of some interest to see the response of the Italian and Polish Bishops’ conferences which had, before the latest interventions by O’Malley, Scicluna and Pope Francis, announced that they would not authorise reporting of abusive clerics in their jurisdictions. (6)
Catholics for Renewal welcomes the first of two articles by Peter Wilkinson for publication initially in The Swag Autumn and Winter editions. With permission these are to be republished by Catholics for Renewal. The first of these deals with the crisis facing many Australian dioceses as the pool of potential bishops capable of leading the People of God with prophetic vision and pastoral courage shrinks dramatically. The second will address the process of Episcopal selection from earliest times up to the present. Significantly, Peter offers suggestions on how the Bishop selection process might be opened up to a more widely representative participation. Both Peter’s articles closely complement the principal matters raised by Catholics for Renewal in the February issue of the Newsletter and planned for follow-up later this year.
After the Synod of Bishops in Rome last October, we now look forward to the Pope’s Apostolic Summary and Exhortation perhaps around Easter.
1) John Allen, “What new Catholic bishops are, and aren’t, being told on sex abuse.” Crux, February 7, 2016. (HERE)
2) Rosie Scammell, “Cardinal O'Malley: We have a moral and ethical responsibility to report abuse.” NCR, Feb. 16, 2016. (HERE)
3) Catholics for Renewal Newsletter Editorial, February, 2016. (HERE)
5) Thomas Reese, “Francis' challenge to bishops.” NCR Feb. 25, 2016. (HERE)
6) Kieran Tapsell, “More smoke and mirrors from the Vatican on child abuse.” NCR June 16, 2015. (HERE); Aleksander Nowacki, “Roman Catholic Church says "no obligation" to report child abuse by priests” Radio Poland, 25.03.2015, 15:11. (HERE)
Image: The Old Bailey, London - Image credit: Shutterstock