Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, Archbishop of Genoa

Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, Archbishop of Genoa Free Art License

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.

Categories: Institutions

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Mark Silk

Mark Silk

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life.

9 Comments

  1. Michael Skiendzielewski

    Mark, even if the new commission were to draft new procedures for mandatory reporting throughout the RCC, who will enforce them?

    Based on their track record, only a fool would rely on the USCCB to adhere to and enforce such conditions and mandates !

  2. Does this make any sense to any rational human being? Why wouldn’t the bishops want to contact police if a child has been sexually abused? There is no logical reason for them not to report to police, unless of course the bishop has something to hide?

    quoted: “Bagnasco said the decision to adopt the Vatican’s policy had been taken in part to protect victims who may not want to press charges.”—
    Bagnasco’s excuse for not reporting child sex crimes is outrageous and self serving. The victim’s name can be kept confidential. It is imperative that the child predator be reported to law enforcement and made public so that parents and the public can be aware to protect their children. Plus it helps other victims to know that they are not alone. Let the police do the investigation, not the church officials.

    There seems to be no hope coming from the church officials. This archaic secret institution is corrupt and they can not police themselves.
    It is time for outside law enforcement to get involved to stop these crimes against humanity. Until high ranking church officials are punished for covering up these sex crimes, nothing changes and children are not safe within the system.

    Judy Jones,
    SNAP, “Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests”

  3. samuel Johnston

    Just look at this guy, to wit: Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, Archbishop of Genoa.
    Imagine Jesus in that get up! To quote the fictional Sir Humphrey; “God, is what we call an optional extra.” He is not nearly as important as this Bishop.

    • I remember when I looked to these guys for moral direction, and a lot of good people still do, scary! No matter now badly prelates behave, RC indoctrination prevents the free exercise of reason by the faithful. A monk once said to me, “never trust a monk with your wife, or a Jesuit with your wallet.” I wouldn’t trust a bishop with anything except subterfuge.

  4. Lynne Newington

    The one comparable reservation in relation to the Australian Royal Commission needs to be gone into further.
    Clergy who have been found guilty are no longer classed as ‘Fit and proper persons’, as an agent for the Commonweath to perform marriages”.
    The blame now been passed onto the bishops but what about those in the past, and those now now found guilty.
    George Brandis , Federal Attorney-General will have fallen down on his job if he doesn’t follow this through, but being a Catholic, I don’t see him being inclined to do so, law or no law…he’ll probably change it.

  5. John Thompson

    Absolutely. Child abuse breaks laws in almost every country and child abuse within institutions works exactly the same as child abuse within families. Children are the future of the human race and because children cannot take care of themselves it is the up to parents and other adults to keep children safe. Everyone born has the right to take care of him/herself and be safe. The Vatican tells bishops not to go to civil authorities but the Vatican knows this is legally and morally wrong because twice now it has stated that the wide spread of child abuse within the church is the fault of the civil authorities because they did nothing. First they tell the bishops not to report to civil authorities then blame the civil authorities for not doing anything. Child abusers never take responsibility for their actions and use secrecy so they can keep on abusing. Beware wolves in shepherd’s clothing.

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