The Vatican recently issued a new handbook to bishops worldwide on how to properly handle cases of clerical sexual abuse within a given congregation. According to a July 2020 article in the New York Times, bishops are to now “report cases of clerical sex abuse to civil authorities even where local laws don’t require it.”
While this new instruction to bishops is a step in the right direction – and something victims have been calling for – this order is not binding nor incorporated into canon law. Nothing says bishops MUST report the abuse, only a handbook outlining how the situation should be handled.
As Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of BishopAccountability.org told the New York Times, “What is important to remember today is that it is still allowable under canon law for a bishop to not report a priest who is raping a child; it is still allowed for thousands of the world’s bishops.”
Make no mistake: child abuse must be reported to the proper authorities. Time and again when suspected abuse is handled by organizations internally – to bishops, supervisors, etc. – instead of by authorized law enforcement, the claim is poorly investigated, or not investigated at all. Many organizations are more concerned with protecting their reputation rather than protecting the children in their care.
It is critical to the safety of children that ALL organizations – religious or otherwise – require staff and volunteers to immediately report suspected abuse to the local child abuse hotline. Without clear child protection policies, effective controls, and proper training for adults, children will remain in harm’s way – and the plague of sexual abuse will continue. We must work to achieve justice for all survivors and their families, in every state across the nation, eliminate the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse cases.
Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden worked with legislators and activists to change Delaware’s laws to lift the statute of limitations on sex offenses against children. Delaware earned a perfect score in Child USA’s ranking. In 2007, Delaware eliminated civil and criminal statutes of limitations and opened a two-year window for past victims to bring cases; then again, in the wake of the Bradley case, the statute was reopened. Beau believed that real change would not come without true accountability.
We implore the Catholic Church — at the very least, one diocese to step up and demonstrate a true commitment to child protection — and partner with The Beau Biden Foundation in protecting children through our Shield of Protection program. We strongly urge each and every state that hasn’t already done so, to demand justice for abuse survivors and their families by undertaking meaningful statute of limitations reform.
If you’d like to learn more about state statute of limitations, visit our partner Child USA at childusa.org. And please, where necessary, write to your local legislators to change the laws and better protect children in your state.
For more information on how you can help shield children from abuse, please visit www.BeauBidenFoundation.org/ShieldOfProtection.
If you have a reasonable suspicion of child abuse, neglect, or dependency, please click here to find the child abuse reporting line in your area and make the call.