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Pope Francis issues broad new Vatican law on reporting of sexual abuse and cover-up

Pope issues new sexual abuse law

Pope Francis on Thursday released a major document laying out broad new Vatican laws on how Catholic clergy around the world must handle reported cases of sexual abuse and cover-up. Implementation of the new rules is the result of the landmark February summit on sex abuse, which saw heads of bishops conferences from around the world meet at the Vatican to discuss the problem. 

The new papal document, technically known as a "motu proprio," was issued on the pontiff's own initiative and personally signed by him. It was the farthest-reaching reaction to date from the Vatican as it tries to address the sexual abuse scandal, applying mandatory new procedures for all Catholic Church diocese across the globe on the reporting of alleged sexual abuse.

Francis has remained under pressure since the February summit as victims' advocacy groups felt the measures implemented up until Thursday were insufficient to address the problem of abuse and cover-up by clergy.

It wasn't clear how these groups would react to the broad new mandate from the pope, which did appear to address some of their frequent complaints about the narrow focus of Vatican rules, but left others only partially resolved.

Pope says Catholic Church should fight "all out battle" on sex abuse

CBS News correspondent Seth Doane reported that they were the most concrete steps from the Vatican since the February summit. They cover the reporting of not just the abuse of minors, but also child pornography and -- importantly -- any "abuse of power" by clergy members, which was an attempt by the pontiff to protect other victims including nuns and seminarians.

Among the new requirements:

  • Each diocese is to establish stable and easily accessible systems for the public to confidentially report abuse and cover-up within a year.
  • All clerics and church officials are obligated to report abuse and cover-up, and there can be no retaliation against whistleblowers.
  • In addition to abuse of minors and vulnerable adults, the guidelines also extend to "abuse of authority," which includes the abuse of nuns and seminarians.
  • Archbishops or clerics must immediately inform the Vatican of an accusation, and the Vatican has 30 days to respond as to whether an investigation should go forward. The investigation into reported abuse must be completed within 90 days.
  • If an investigation involves allegations against an archbishop -- as was the case with now-defrocked former Archbishop of Washington D.C. Theodore McCarrick -- the Vatican can replace the individual with another bishop or an envoy from the Holy See for the purposes of the investigation.
  • Individual episcopal conferences may decide to include lay people to assist in these investigations.

That last point may leave a lot of people disappointed, as many believe lay oversight -- involving people from outside the church, in other words -- is fundamental to changing the way clergy handle abuse.