Local bishops publish guidelines for priests and members of the clergy who are guilty of crimes against children and vulnerable adults. For the first time, the reduction to the lay state is foreseen for a guilty priest.
Kochi (AsiaNews) - The Catholic Church in Kerala has issued safeguarding guidelines for the behavior of priests and ecclesiastical personnel in which it reiterates the policy of zero tolerance in cases of sexual abuse against children and vulnerable adults.
The news was released by the national newspaper The Indian Express. The document is part of the initiatives implemented by Catholic hierarchies on the issue of child abuse, to which Pope Francis is also paying great attention.
The guidelines of the local Indian Church were sent to presbyters, churches, schools and religious institutions, nursing homes throughout the Indian state. They are aimed in particular at mitigating the controversy that broke out in the case involving Msgr. Franco Mulakkal, former bishop of Jalandhar (in Punjab), who is being investigated in Kerala for rape of the former superior of the Missionaries of Jesus.
Among the indications provided by the Council of Catholic bishops of Kerala (Kcbc), there are: report sexual harassment cases to the authorities concerned; cooperate in investigations; avoid inappropriate physical contact with minors. Speaking of minors, one of the points in the document specifically states: "Sexual exploitation and abuse of vulnerable children and adults are serious crimes and serious sins".
For the first time ever, the guidelines provide for the reduction to the lay state for priests or members of the clergy found guilty of sexual harassment. The bishops stipulate that any incident must be reported obligatorily to the civil authorities. They also recommend "avoiding night trips in the company of children or taking photographs when they are undressed or getting dressed".
Finally, the document states, "if the Bishop/Major Superior, after studying the results of the investigation by the Sexual Offences Committee, concludes that the alleged offender is guilty and constitutes a risk for minors, the offender is to be immediately relieved of all offices he had been holding and it should be examined whether he needs to be advised to request to be reduced to the lay state; he had the option of asking the Holy Father to dispense him from all obligation connected with the clerical state including celibacy; else a procedure may be initiated for his dismissal from the clerical state. Penal remedies may also be imposed".