Vatican readies guidance for bishops on sex abuse cases
VATICAN CITY — The Vatican will issue a new document Monday designed to help bishops around the world craft guidelines to deal with clerical sex abuse cases, the latest effort by the Holy See to show it is trying to get tough with pedophiles in the clergy.
It is not clear, though, if the letter from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith will contain any binding instructions for the bishops themselves or only a set of recommendations for them to consider following.
It is being issued at a time when even the US guidelines, the most stringent in force, have been put into question amid a new scandal in the Philadelphia archdiocese.
The head of the congregation, Cardinal William Levada, said in November that his office was working on ways to help bishops draft guidelines to deal with abuse cases. Current church law requires bishops to investigate every allegation of sexual abuse of a minor by a cleric and report it to the congregation if the accusation has a semblance of truth.
In a closed meeting with cardinals from around the world, Levada spoke of the need for bishops to simultaneously cooperate with law enforcement authorities in reporting abuse cases to police, to better screen priests to weed out potential pedophiles, and to take measures to protect young people, the Vatican said at the time.
Levada has said he intended to hold up the US norms as a model for bishops conferences around the world, saying they were a “real success story’’ that could be used for bishops as well as Boy Scouts and public schools.
The US norms bar credibly accused priests from any public church work while claims against them are under investigation. Diocesan review boards, composed mostly of lay people, help bishops oversee cases.
Yet as tough as the policy is on paper, the US norms failed to prevent the latest eruption of the scandal in the United States this year: A Philadelphia grand jury indicted a high-ranking church official on child-endangerment charges over the transfer of predator priests.
Nicholas Cafardi, a canon lawyer who helped draft the US norms, said in an e-mail: “As the recent scandal in Philadelphia has demonstrated, you can have the best norms in the world, they mean nothing if the local bishop chooses not to follow them.’’