VATICAN CITY, MAY 16, 2011 (Zenit.org).- The Vatican is asking episcopal conferences to turn in guidelines for handling sexual abuse by clergy, but many nations already have such guidelines in force, the Vatican spokesman clarified.
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office, presented three documents from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith today, in which broad principles are given to bishops to assist them in establishing their own guidelines. The Vatican has asked every episcopal conference to turn in their guidelines within a year’s time, by the end of May 2012.
The Vatican spokesman explained that most English-speaking countries have already specified such guidelines, in particular in the United States, Ireland, England and Wales, Scotland, New Zealand, Malta, Australia and Canada.
In Asia, the bishops of the Philippines have already adopted guidelines, while those of India are working at present on the document.
In Latin American, Brazil and Chile have already adopted this type of measure, while Venezuela is in process.
In regard to Europe, Germany’s practices are well known, Father Lombardi said, and guidelines have already been adopted in Austria, Switzerland, Slovenia and France. They are being worked on in Holland, Sweden and Belgium.
Father Lombardi noted that in Italy, a new abuse case has just been brought to public attention, with a priest of Genoa having been sentenced for sexual abuse and drug trafficking.
The spokesman lauded Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, archbishop of Genoa and president of the Italian episcopal conference, for his response to the Genoa case.
He added that the conference is working on guidelines, as previously each bishop was expected to respond according to his own criteria.
In any case, one of the main points of today’s documents, Father Lombardi clarified, is emphasizing the responsibility of bishops and major superiors in handling these situations. Bishops can receive help from experts, but on the condition that this does not imply “abdicating from the specific responsibility that the superior has,” he said.
The Jesuit also clarified a point often misunderstood by the public.
Speaking of cooperation with civil authorities, he said that “it is necessary to collaborate according to the existing situation. If there are laws, they must be applied; if there aren’t any, it must be taken into account that we do not promulgate them. In this case, it is necessary to collaborate as best as possible to guarantee the protection of the victims, and to ensure justice.”
He also spoke of the pastoral responsibility for preventing abuse, with care to know a priest’s personality and to be attentive to signs that could indicate anomalies.
In regard to the compensation of victims, Father Lombardi offered by way of example the precedent set by the Church in Germany, which he said “consists in being very attentive and very generous in paying for therapies.”