Under international pressure to address rampant clerical sexual abuse of minors, the Vatican released a handbook Thursday outlining how Roman Catholic clerics should handle allegations, in some of its clearest and most thorough guidance yet.
The 20-page document, issued by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), encourages clerics to report sexual abuse to civil authorities even if not required by local laws. Older Vatican documents instructed clerics to report abuse to Church superiors and notify civil authorities if required under local law.
“It is hoped that this handbook will assist [Church organizations and members] to better understand and implement the requirements of justice regarding a delictum gravius [mortal sin] that constitutes for the whole Church a profound and painful wound that cries out for healing,” says the guide.
The handbook defines clerical sex abuse and lays out what to do when allegations are made, how to conduct a preliminary investigation and the role of the CDF. The guide also outlines the penal process and appeals procedures for those accused.
Bishops asked for a guide on how to handle sexual abuse allegations at a Vatican summit on abuse in February 2019. The handbook clearly states it doesn’t introduce any new rules, and functions as a compilation of laws to provide a standardized process for administering and investigating accusations.
Nearly 4,500 reports of sexual abuse against the Church were filed in the U.S. in the year before June 2019, according to The Associated Press. That same year, dioceses and religious orders paid out $282 million in settlements.
“Recent history attests to greater attention on the part of the Church regarding this scourge,” said Cardinal Luis Ladaria, head of the CDF, in a statement Thursday. “The course of justice cannot alone exhaust the Church’s response, but it is necessary in order to come to the truth of the facts.”
The Catholic Church received anywhere from $1.4 billion to $3.5 billion — or even more — in forgivable loans under the U.S. pandemic Paycheck Protection Program, according to AP. About $200 million of it went to 40 dioceses that have paid out millions of dollars in sex abuse settlements in recent years.