10 May 2019

Pope Francis makes it mandatory for clergy to report sex abuse

6:33 am on 10 May 2019

Pope Francis has made it mandatory for Roman Catholic clergy to report cases of clerical sexual abuse and cover-ups to the Church.

Pope Francis arrives for his weekly general audience, in St. Peter's Square, at the Vatican, 8 May 2019.

Pope Francis arrives for his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square on Wednesday. His new Apostolic letter makes clear that clerics should report abuse to the "competent civil authorities". Photo: AP

In an Apostolic letter, which is set to become Church law, he makes clear that any sexual advance involving the use of power will now be considered abusive.

The clarification is being seen as a message to the Church hierarchy that no-one will be exempt from scrutiny.

The Pope promised in February to take concrete action to tackle abuse.

The new Apostolic letter makes clear that clerics should also follow state law and meet their obligations to report any abuse to "the competent civil authorities".

The new guidelines were welcomed by some Vatican commentators, who argued that they broke new ground in attempts to end Church sexual abuse.

"The crimes of sexual abuse offend Our Lord, cause physical, psychological and spiritual damage to the victims and harm the community of the faithful," the Pope writes in the letter.

The letter outlines three forms of sexual abuse:

  • Forcing someone, by violence or threat or through abuse of authority, to perform or submit to sexual acts
  • Performing sexual acts with a minor or a vulnerable person
  • Production, exhibition, possession or distribution... of child pornography" and "the recruitment of or inducement of a minor or a vulnerable person to participate in pornographic exhibitions

The guidelines further cover "actions or omissions intended to interfere with or avoid civil investigations or canonical [Church] investigations, whether administrative or penal, against a cleric or a religious" for sexual abuse.

The Pope is under serious pressure to provide leadership and generate workable solutions to what is the most pressing crisis facing the modern Church - one which some say has left its moral authority in tatters.

When he was elected in 2013, he called for "decisive action" on abuse but critics say he has not done enough to hold to account bishops who allegedly engaged in cover ups.

Thousands of people are thought to have been abused by priests over many decades, and the Church has been accused of covering up crimes around the world.

Survivors say new safeguarding protocols are needed to protect minors.


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