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Report sexual abuse crimes to Church not local police: Pope Francis’s new law

Vatican: While the Vicar of the Catholic Church Pope Francis attempts to show the world that the Christian institution is committed to addressing the issue of sexual abuse by passing a new Canon law requiring priests and nuns around the world to report clergy abuse and cover-ups by their superiors to Church authorities, but it does not mandate church officials to notify law enforcement authorities on the sexual abuse crimes.

“People must know that bishops are at the service of the people,” said Archbishop Charles Scicluna, the Vatican’s longtime sex crimes prosecutor. “They are not above the law, and if they do wrong, they must be reported.”

The new Canon law makes it mandatory for the 415,000 Catholic priests and 660,000 nuns to inform church authorities when they learn or have “well-founded motives to believe” a cleric or sister has engaged in sexual abuse of a minor, sexual misconduct with an adult, possession of child pornography — or that a superior has covered up any of those crimes.

The law defines the crimes that must be reported as: performing sexual acts with a minor or vulnerable person; forcing an adult “by violence or threat or through abuse of authority, to perform or submit to sexual acts”; and the production, possession or distribution of child pornography. Cover-up is defined as “actions or omissions intended to interfere with or avoid” civil or canonical investigations.

Vatican News reported that the local church officials now are obligated to “report promptly” any allegations of abuse and cover-up, with archbishops or clerics sending word to the Vatican, which has 30 days to decide whether to launch an investigation that itself must be finished within 90 days.

In addition, by June 2020, each diocese must set up “stable and easily accessible systems for submission of reports” by the public, although the design of such confidential systems or offices was left to the discretion of the local church, according to the pope’s decree.

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