We give a cautious welcome to the decision by Pope Francis to approve the creation of a tribunal to hear cases of bishops who fail to protect children from abuse by priests.
Following a recommendation from the Pope’s newly created panel on child sex abuse, the new tribunal will have the power to punish bishops who fail to protect vulnerable children under their watch.
It’s the biggest step that the Vatican has taken to hold bishops accountable for failing to prevent – and in some cases, covering up – child sex abuse in the Catholic church.
An Overdue Response to a Global Problem of Abuse in the Church
The Church came under heavy criticism last year from the United Nations for failing to address the problem of child abuse and for allowing reports of abuse to be covered up.
Survivors' groups have long campaigned for the Vatican to make bishops more accountable and, although Canon Law does provide sanctions for bishops who are negligent in their duties, the Vatican hasn’t yet knowingly punished a bishop who covered up reports of child abuse carried out by priests in their diocese.
Pope Francis accepted the resignation of a US bishop last year who had failed to report a suspected child abuser, but campaign groups said this didn’t go far enough as accepting a resignation does not carry the same weight as a forced dismissal.
The campaign group, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, says that it will "withhold judgement" until it sees exactly how the new tribunal will operate.
New Tribunal is Welcome but Church Should Still Report Abuse to Police
Across the Catholic world, respect for the priesthood has been shattered. Allegations of abuse spanning several decades have been ignored by senior Church figures who should have reported it to police, knowing that they are accountable not only to their congregations but also to the rule of law itself.
Whilst we welcome the new tribunal, the past experience of the Catholic Church and their history of covering up cases of sexual abuse makes us cautious about how well it will work.
The overriding requirement for the Church to report all cases of abuse to the police and social services has not changed and the setting up of the new tribunal must not detract from this. Over the years, the Church has been reluctant to report cases of abuse to be investigated outside of the organisation and the Pope will still not issue a formal edict requiring this to be done.
The Catholic church has shown throughout the years that it cannot, and does not, investigate allegations of abuse internally, properly and objectively, and with the interests of survivors in mind.
We have long campaigned for the mandatory reporting of child abuse and the history of abuse and cover-ups in the Catholic Church highlight why this urgently needs to become law.
Jessica Standley is a Personal Injury Solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers UK who specialises in child abuse claims.
Slater and Gordon’s specialist team or Abuse Lawyers are currently representing over 800 survivors of abuse, including people who have been abused by members of the Catholic Church.
We do understand how difficult it is to come forward and talk about any abuse that you have suffered. We offer a free consultation for abuse victims and can provide immediate legal representation and support anywhere in the UK.
For more information call us 24/7 on freephone 0800 916 9046 or contact us online and tell us when and where to call you.