The Vatican is preparing a document for all bishops' conferences offering guidelines for a "coordinated and effective program" of child protection and for dealing with allegations of clerical sexual abuse, said Cardinal William J. Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
During the evening session of a meeting Nov. 19 with Pope Benedict XVI and about 150 prelates -- members of the College of Cardinals and the 24 churchmen who were scheduled to receive their red hats Nov. 20 -- the cardinal spoke about the church's efforts to deal with the abuse crisis.
The cardinal "made some observations about the greater responsibility of bishops for safeguarding the faithful entrusted to them," said a Vatican statement issued after the meeting.
The statement said bishops should be "inspired by the words" of Pope Benedict and the way he has listened to victims of sexual abuse during his meetings with them.
Cardinal Levada also spoke about "collaboration with civil authorities and the need for an effective commitment to protecting children and young people and for an attentive selection and formation of future priests and religious," the statement said.
Following the Vatican needs patience. Steam builds up on an issue; you hear it's being worked on; then the next thing you know it's not happening -- and then suddenly it does. This is one of those stories.
Back in April, I reported on a little-noticed item in an Italian newspaper which said the CDF was working on "global guidelines", expected to appear in the Autumn, one which would, in effect, extend the US/UK "zero tolerance" policy to bishops' conferences worldwide. It seemed the obvious response; and I cannot count the number of times I have been asked in TV studios, "Why, if the UK / US policies are so outstanding, are they not applied worldwide?"
Answering that question has involved pointing out the complexities of a global Church present in hundreds of different systems of law, in some of which paedophilia is not a crime, while in others reporting a priest to the police could mean the priest's execution. I've often cited the example of Kenya, where a bishop has been accused of brushing an accusation under the carpet because he took it to the police -- knowing, said the victim's relative, that the police would do nothing.
But it still should be possible to establish as a general principle that civil authorities should always be alerted and action taken. And there were various moments this year when I thought that principle might be enunciated: in the Pope's Lenten letter to the Irish, for example, or when Benedict XVI addressed a world gathering of priests in St Peter's Square in June. But it didn't happen.
Now, it seems, it will. CNS reports:
A Vatican official told Catholic News Service that the doctrinal congregation's circular letter to bishops' conferences around the world would encourage reporting every accusation to civil authorities but would not mandate reporting because in some countries an accused priest could be killed without a trial.
The important thing about these guidelines is that, if properly implemented, they will force bishops to take action against abusive priests in those countries where the crisis has not yet exploded -- but could yet, if the accusations continue to be brushed under the carpet (Poland and some countries in Latin America are often mentioned as the next eruption sites).
Why has it taken the Church so long to do this? Why only now?
John Allen and George Weigel gave some answers to that question at a recent gathering of journalists in Miami (see Allen's report here).
But one thing that comes across: Pope Benedict has moved the ball on this -- often in spite of a reluctant and inefficient curial mentality still in denial on the issue.
If these guidelines are out soon, then -- as I've suggested before -- 2010 will really be seen as the year in which the clerical sex abuse was finally confronted by the Vatican. Better late than never.
[UPDATE] Says the New York Times:
According to several cardinals who attended Friday’s meeting, two speakers who raised those themes were Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, a former archbishop of London, and Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston, both of whom were chosen by the pope as part of a delegation to investigate a widespread sex abuse scandal in Ireland.