07/17/2020, 16.55
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Vatican releases handbook on how to deal with paedophilia cases

The manual is not based on new legislation, but summarises the issues involved. It calls for action into any situation brought to the attention of the authorities from any source, even anonymous. The reputation of victims and accused must be protected. Transferring the accused from one place to another, as was often done in the past, must be avoided.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith yesterday released a Vademecum, an instruction handbook with “certain points of procedure in treating cases of sexual abuse of minors committed by clerics.”

This handbook provides a clear step-by-step guide to help ascertain the truth in cases of minors who suffered abuse on the part of members of the clergy.

The document is not based on any new legislation. In addition to the Codices, its legislative sources are the Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela of John Paul II, updated by Benedict XVI, and the Vos estis lux mundi of Pope Francis.

The 30-page summary is divided into nine chapters that examine the various issues involved. It is designed to help those who must implement canon law in matters of delicta graviora, which constitute “for the whole Church a profound and painful wound that cries out for healing.”

The offences involved are “quite broad”, including “sexual relations (consensual or non-consensual), physical contact for sexual gratification, exhibitionism, masturbation, the production of pornography, inducement to prostitution, conversations and/or propositions of a sexual nature, which can also occur through various means of communication.”

Investigations “should be carried out with respect for the civil laws of each state.” At the same time, “Even in cases where there is no explicit legal obligation to do so, the ecclesiastical authorities should make a report to the competent civil authorities if this is considered necessary to protect the person involved or other minors from the danger of further criminal acts.”

For the Church, the process can begin with “any information about a possible delict (offence) that in any way comes to the attention of the Ordinary or Hierarch. It need not be a formal complaint.”

Such information can come “orally or in writing, by the alleged victim, his or her guardians or other persons claiming to have knowledge about the matter”. It can [. . .] be made known through the communications media (including social media)” or “hearsay, or in any other adequate way”.

It can also come “from an anonymous source, namely, from unidentified or unidentifiable persons”, and however vague and unclear,” it “should be appropriately assessed and, if reasonably possible, given all due attention.”

This said, “This is a delicate question,” said Archbishop Giacomo Morandi, Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. “It has become clear that a peremptory attitude in one sense or another is not conducive to the search for truth and justice.

“How can a complaint which, even if anonymous, contains certain evidence (e.g. photos, films, messages, audio...), or at least concrete and plausible clues of the commission of a crime, be thrown out?

“Ignoring it just because it is not signed would be wrong. On the other hand, how can all reports of abuse be accepted, even generic ones and those without a sender? In this case, it would be inappropriate to proceed. It is therefore necessary to carry out a careful discernment.

“Generally speaking, we do not fully credit anonymous complaints, but we also do not forego a priori their initial evaluation, in order to see if there are objective and obvious determinants, those which we call fumus delicti in legal language.”

With respect to confession, the bond remains, and the confessor “should seek to convince the penitent to make that information known by other means, in order to enable the appropriate authorities to take action.”

The handbook includes special recommendations to protect the parties. Church “authorities must ensure that the alleged victim and his or her family are treated with dignity and respect.” This includes offering “them welcome, attentive hearing and support,” not to mention “specific services, as well as spiritual, medical and psychological help, as required by the specific case”.

“Where there exist state or ecclesiastical structures of information and support for alleged victims, or of consultation for ecclesial authorities, it is helpful also to refer to them.” The same must “be done with regard to the accused” who has the right to defend himself” and “to present a petition to be dispensed from all the obligations connected with the clerical state, including celibacy, and, concurrently, from any religious vows.”

Transferring an accused clergyman from “his office, region or religious house,” as was done in the past, must be avoided; “the idea that distancing him from the place of the alleged crime or alleged victims constitutes a sufficient solution of the case” must be rejected.

“[P]rotecting the good name of the persons involved" falls within the scope of personal protection and the principle of professional secrecy, and any "inappropriate and illicit" disclosure of information to the public must be avoided.

This means that “especially in cases where public statements must be made, great caution should be exercised in providing information about the facts. Statements should be brief and concise, avoiding clamorous announcements, refraining completely from any premature judgment about the guilt or innocence of the person accused [. . .] and respecting any desire for privacy expressed by the alleged victims.” (FP)

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