The Associated Press reports that the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith plans to release new guidelines advising Bishops on how to deal with cases of sexual abuse of children by priests.
The guidelines have been in the works for at least six months. In November last year, Cardinal William Levada indicated the Vatican would recommend establishing prevention programs, better screening of priests and advise Bishops to obey civil reporting requirements.
Need a Recommendation to Obey the Law?
Every province in Canada (and in most jurisdictions around the world) have laws that require persons in authority to report suspected child abuse to the police or appropriate child protection agency. It is a sad commentary that the Vatican apparently feels it is necessary to remind Bishops of their obligation to obey the law.
Voluntary not Mandatory?
I find it interesting that the Vatican's news release is referring to "guidelines" rather than "rules". This suggests that the Vatican will allow Bishops to decide whether to implement the recommendations.
What happens if a Bishop fails to implement the precautions that the Vatican appears to be poised to recommend? Will there be any consequences? Other than to victims who may be abused if Bishops do not implement the "guidelines"?
Perhaps the Vatican is trying to avoid the possibility of the recommendations being used against the Church in future litigation. If the recommendations are mandatory rules, and they are not followed, it makes it easier for victims of abuse to prove negligence on the part of a Diocese.
On the other hand, if the recommendations are merely "guidelines" Bishops are free to argue that, given the circumstances of their particular Diocese, it was not necessary to implement the recommendations.
I will post copies of the "guidelines" when they are made public.