Church still drags its heels on child abuse
May 17, 2011 – 1:01PM
The Vatican has once again abrogated its responsibility for stamping out abuse within the Catholic Church. The long-awaited guidelines on preventing clerical sex abuse and reporting suspect priests to police, issued to bishop’s conferences globally, fall far short of what is needed.
The guidelines leave the responsibility of responding to child sexual abuse within the Church to bishops, who have 12 months to draw up their own rules for enforcing the Vatican directive. Historically, however, it is the Church hierarchy, and specifically bishops, that on many occasions have failed to bring perpetrators to justice or to ensure the safety of children from alleged or known abusers.
Many victims in countries across the world have repeatedly been denied the care and support they need. In many cases compensation has been elusive and patently inadequate for the needs of those victims.
And there appear to be no repercussions for bishops who fail to develop the guidelines or indeed for those who contravene them.
Given the decades of abuse perpetrated within the Catholic Church by clergy and others for which there has been minimal accountability having another year for bishops to draft their own guidelines is a travesty. The longer the Church fails to act decisively, the longer innocent children remain at risk within its confines.
The National Board for the Safeguarding of Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland has just revealed alarming statistics — the number of allegations of child abuse at the hands of priests in the Irish Church has increased by 38 per cent between April 2010 and March 2011. In its 2010 annual report, the NBSSCC stated that there had been 272 new allegations of abuse between April 2010 and March 2011 as compared to 197 for the same period the previous year. Twelve of the people against whom allegations have been made are still practising priests. The failure to remove priests under investigation from their duties implies that children are potentially being exposed to further risk within the Catholic Church in Ireland, at the very least.
While Pope Benedict has repeatedly apologised to victims, more is needed. We need to see strict guidelines that are enforced systemically. Reporting of allegations to the police must be mandatory. We need to see a zero tolerance policy, such as that in America in which priests accused of the crime of child sexual assault are automatically suspended subject to an investigation.
“Limiting the exercise of the cleric’s ministry’ – as is suggested under the new guidelines is inadequate. The words “limiting the exercise” mean children could continue to be exposed to rape and molestation at the hands of paedophile priests. To adequately protect children, all clergy under investigation, and ultimately all clergy found guilty of child sexual assault must be removed from the ministry and from any contact with children.
The onus has been placed on bishops to be alert to the signs of abuse and to identify potential perpetrators. There appears to be no real guidance as to how bishops should make these assessments.
The letter also states that all cases deemed “credible” should be sent to the Vatican to review. It stresses that lay review boards “cannot substitute” the decisions of bishops.
Over the years we have seen far too many paedophile priests moved from ministry to ministry, only to abuse more children as a result. Similarly it is the bishops who have been charged to be committed to the “spiritual and psychological assistance” of victims. Again this falls way short of an obligation to provide victims of child abuse with the ongoing therapeutic care and compensation needed for them to begin to reclaim their lives.
Child sexual assault is not a problem particular to the Catholic Church. It is a societal issue that knows no religious, ethnic or geographical boundaries. However the Catholic Church has repeatedly failed to adequately address abuse within its ranks.
The Church must draw on the collective knowledge of lay experts, in developing and implementing strict child protection guidelines.
It must show that it is accountable as an institution and as a hierarchy. The Church, in common with other institutions, must bring all perpetrators within its midst to civil justice. Those found guilty must be punished according to the laws of the country in which they live.
Finally the Church must provide all victims, child and adult, with the funds they need to receive ongoing professional care and support for as long as they need it. For only with the right care and support survivors of child abuse have the possibility of working through the impacts of their abuse and finding a life worth living.
Dr Cathy Kezelman is chief executive of Adults Surviving Child Abuse