In Italy, the bishops don’t think so. Or at least, they’re happy to claim the discretion provided by Italian law to withhold information on abuse in order to protect victims’ sensibilities.
As Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco of Genoa said over the weekend in explaining his conference’s position, “We priests have to be very careful to respect the privacy, discretion and sense of reserve [of victims], we’ve got to be sensitive to the trauma of victims who do not want to be thrust into the public eye.”
Meanwhile, in Australia, where a full-blown abuse scandal has resulted in a slew of newly proposed legislation, the church is supporting mandatory reporting, but with a comparable reservation.
”[The church told the child abuse] inquiry that we wanted to be in a position to report all complaints we received but that we wanted to be able to protect the privacy of victims who did not want to be identified in that process,” church spokesman Father Shane McKinlay said.
In America, different states have different reporting requirements. It was for violating Missouri’s strict rules that Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City was convicted of a crime in 2012.
The Vatican’s position at the moment is that its far-flung dioceses should obey the laws of whatever jurisdiction they happen to be in, and it’s hard to argue with that. But the problem with the “spare the victims’ feelings” line is that it can all too easily be used as an excuse to protect the perpetrators.
“Are you sure you want to be dragged into the public eye?” asks the kindly cleric of the terrified victim-accuser. “Oh, I guess not, father,” comes the reply. It’s critical to bear in mind that sparing a victim’s feelings is not as important as sparing someone else from being victimized.
Clearly, what the church needs are procedures to be followed regardless of what the local criminal law requires. Such as: Where reporting is not legally mandatory, it is canonically obligatory unless independent third parties determine otherwise. And if they so determine, the name of the credibly accused perpetrator is turned over to law enforcement. And canonical proceedings against the accused undertaken immediately.
Who’s to be responsible for coming up with the uniform procedures? The Vatican’s new commission on child sexual abuse, of course. For the commission, nothing is more important.