Pope Francis issues new law to force clergy to report sex abuse

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Too little, too late?

The groundbreaking new law requires clergy to report suspected cases of sexual abuse to their superiors — and report cases where abuse had been covered up. The law doesn't completely meet the demands of victims' groups.

Pope Francis signed off on a new law for the Catholic Church on Thursday to hold bishops accountable for sexual abuse or for covering it up.

The changes to protect whistleblowers come after years of pressure and numerous child sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church around the world.

What is in the new church law:

  • All priests, nuns and other clerics are required to "promptly" report cases of child or adult sex abuse to Catholic Church authorities.
  • They are required to report as well if they suspect a clergy member has child pornography or that a superior covered up any sexual misconduct or sexual abuse.
  • Dioceses around the world are required to have a system in place to confidentially receive the claims.
  • The victims and their families are to be welcomed and treated with respect, as well as provided with medical support and psychological help.
  • Complaints can be reported directly to the Vatican if needed.
  • Clerics should follow local laws on whether they are required to report alleged sexual abuse to law enforcement.

The new law is the latest move by Pope Francis to respond to global backlash over the church's sexual abuse scandals

The head of the US bishops conference welcomed the law. Houston Cardinal Daniel DiNardo said US committees were already working on preparing measures to implement it. The edict is a "blessing that will empower the church everywhere to bring predators to justice no matter what rank they hold in the church," he wrote in a statement Thursday.

'Learn from the bitter lessons of the past'

In the introduction to the new church law, Francis said that "concrete and effective actions" involving everyone in the Catholic Church are needed to combat sexual abuse in the future.

"The crimes of sexual abuse offend Our Lord, cause physical, psychological and spiritual damage to the victims and harm the community of the faithful," he wrote.

"Even if so much has already been accomplished, we must continue to learn from the bitter lessons of the past, looking with hope towards the future," Francis added.

Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the head of the Vatican office for bishops, said that it's time for bishops and other higher-ups in the church to conform to certain strict rules, as is already expected of priests.

"It's not just a law, but a profound responsibility," he said.

Confronting sex abuse

Thursday's sweeping law was the latest effort by Francis to address sex abuse and church cover-up scandals that have rocked numerous countries around the world, including: the United States, IrelandChile, AustraliaPoland and Germany.

Bishops and other religious superiors are only accountable to the pope. Only a few have been removed from their posts or sanctioned after serious reports of misconduct became public.

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Stopping short of victims' demands: 

Victims and their families have long criticized bishops and others in the church hierarchy escaping justice for either committing abuse or covering it up, as well as for failing to protect their congregations from predatory priests.

They've called on the church for years to put concrete measures in place to tackle the problem. The measures outlined in Francis' law fall short of demands from victims' groups calling for offending clerics to be immediately fired, or for abuse reported to a priest during a confession to be reported.

rs/rt (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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