MUMBAI, India – Bangladesh’s bishops’ conference has decided to have each diocese appoint a designated priest to handle sex abuse accusations, and not establish a central office at the bishops’ conference for child protection.

Bangladesh has two archdioceses and six dioceses for the country’s fewer than 400,000 Catholics, approximately 0.5 percent of the predominantly Muslim population. Most of the Catholics come from the country’s most marginalized communities, and the Church is relatively poor.

“At our CBCB [Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Bangladesh] meeting, it was unanimously agreed, that since there has not been a single reported case of abuse of a minor by a clergyman, it was decided that to start an office was not a requirement,” Cardinal Patrick D’Rozario, Archbishop of Dhaka, told Crux.

“However, in every diocese, the bishop will appoint a designated priest who will immediately investigate any reported instance of abuse of minor by a clergy, when and if it arises,” the cardinal said.

Bangladesh’s bishops met in August to discuss Vos Estis Lux Mundi, the new Vatican legislation on sex abuse that came out May 9 and went into effect June 1.

Among other things, the new law stipulates that every diocese in the world must have a “system for reporting” by June 1, 2020; all priests and members of religious orders are to report cases of sexual abuse and cover-up to Church authorities, but they must follow local law when it comes to reporting to civil authorities; and abuse or cover-up by bishops must be brought to the attention of Metropolitan archbishops, but in case the Metropolitan is accused of abuse, reporting can be done directly to the Holy See through the papal representative in the country.

The bishops of Bangladesh have been discussing the issue over the past few years and had already adopted several measures addressing the situation.

In 2015, guidelines for dealing with clerical abuse were approved and a code of conduct for clergy and religious was authorized. The next year, a policy on the protection of minors in Church institutions was approved, and in 2017, a code of conduct for these institutions was also implemented.

In their August meeting, the Bangladeshi bishops affirmed:

— Each diocese will have “an accessible system for submission of the reports either to the bishop himself and/or to a priest holding good faith in the Diocese and the Metropolitan Bishop concerned if necessary.”

— The name of the persons assigned in each diocese in Bangladesh will be communicated to the Vatican representative in the country.

— After three years, these directives will be assessed for their effectiveness.

The bishops’ conference also committed itself to promoting several “positive steps to face the crisis and the scandals and to promote positively the dignity and rights of the human persons.”

This included encouraging priests, religious and the lay faithful to work, help and pray for the holiness of the priests and men and women of consecrated life. The bishops also pledged to take steps for the protection of the minors and vulnerable in the family, society, in the Church and in all its institutions and organizations.

D’Rozario told Crux the Church in Bangladesh is also concerned about cases of sexual abuse taking place outside of the Church.

“Regrettably, there have been cases of abuse by minors – or are at risk of being abused – on the domestic level, perpetrated by someone known to the child, by members of the families and extended family,” the cardinal said.

“This is a concern for the Church; hence it is necessary to create awareness and set up mechanisms in our educational institutions, hostels, and boarding schools to keep checks and prevent the abuse of minors,” he added.

“We need a wider family apostolate to work for the protection of minors, across the country.  We have systems in place, but we need to revise and update our systems and make reporting and investigations fine-tuned and have programs to ensure the protection of our minors,” D’Rozario said. “This will bring about a transformation, and we must stop abuse of minors, and our minors are in a safe environment.”

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