Pope requiring priests, nuns to report sexual abuse, cover-ups

Pope requiring priests, nuns to report sexual abuse, cover-ups
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Pope Francis on Thursday issued a new law mandating that all Catholic nuns and priests report any sexual abuse by clergy or cover-ups by their superiors to church authorities.

Under the new edict, all dioceses worldwide must have a system in place to receive reports confidentially, according to The Associated Press, which added that it establishes an investigatory process for allegations against higher-ranking figures such as cardinals or bishops.

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The new law reportedly designates the 660,000 nuns and 415,000 priests worldwide as mandated reporters, requiring them to tell church authorities in any case in which they have “well-founded motives to believe” a cleric or sister has committed sexual abuse of a minor or sexual misconduct with an adult, is in possession of child pornography, or has covered up any such misconduct by a subordinate. A cover-up is defined in the law as "actions or omissions intended to interfere with or avoid” canonical or civil investigations into sexual misconduct, the AP noted.

Church law had previously left reporting up to individual conscience, according to the news service. The new edict does not include penalties for priests or nuns who fail to report and it does not require priests or nuns to report the misconduct to police, which the Vatican has argued could pose a danger in areas where Catholics are at risk for religious persecution, the AP added.

"We have said for years that priests must conform to certain strict rules, so why shouldn't bishops and others in the hierarchy do the same?" asked Cardinal Marc Ouellet, head of the Vatican office for bishops, according to Reuters. "It's not just a law, but a profound responsibility."

Francis’s law is procedural rather than criminal, meaning both the reporting and the whistleblower protections for doing so can apply retroactively, the AP noted.  

It comes just over a month after Francis signed a law requiring Vatican officials and diplomats in its missions and embassies to immediately report any sexual abuse of minors.