A commission created by Pope Francis to advise him in the fight against child sexual abuse has reiterated that Catholic bishops have “a moral and ethical responsibility” to report suspected abuse to civil authorities.
The statement comes amid controversy over a Vatican training course for new Catholic bishops around the world held in September 2015, in which French Monsignor Tony Anatrella, a psychologist known for his views on homosexuality and “gender theory,” told bishops they had no obligation to report abuse charges to law enforcement.
Anatrella argued that the decision to report should be up to victims and their families, and that while bishops have the right to inform police and other public authorities, they are not required to do so under Church law.
However, in a strongly worded statement Monday, the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, a body created by Pope Francis in 2014 and led by Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston, insisted that Catholic officials should make such reports.
The commission includes a cross-section of the Church’s leading experts on the detection and prevention of child sexual abuse, including an Irish abuse survivor.
“As Pope Francis has so clearly stated, ‘The crimes and sins of the sexual abuse of children must not be kept secret for any longer. I pledge the zealous vigilance of the Church to protect children and the promise of accountability for all’,” the statement said.
“We, the president and the members of the commission, wish to affirm that our obligations under civil law must certainly be followed, but even beyond these civil requirements, we all have a moral and ethical responsibility to report suspected abuse to the civil authorities who are charged with protecting our society.”
The statement, issued in O’Malley’s name, said the requirement to report is already communicated to new bishops in the United States.
“Our bishops’ charter clearly states the obligation that all dioceses [and] eparchies and personnel report suspected abuse to the public authorities,” it says.
“Every year at our November meeting, at a training session for new bishops, this obligation is reaffirmed, and every other February the conference runs a second training program for new bishops which also clearly and explicitly includes this obligation.”
Anatrella’s presentation to a training course organized by the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops was first reported on Crux by associate editor John Allen, who argued that the pope’s commission should be given responsibility for sharing “best practices” for the prevention of sexual abuse with new bishops.
In Monday’s statement, the commission indicated it’s ready and willing to perform that role.
“As the Holy Father’s advisory commission for the protection of minors, we recently shared with Pope Francis an overview of the commission’s extensive education efforts in local churches over the past two years,” the statement said.
Its update for the pope also “reiterated the members’ willingness to provide this material at courses offered in Rome, including to the annual training program for new bishops and to the offices of the Roman Curia for their use in their own child protection efforts.”