ROCHESTER, NY (WXXI) Pope Francis issued new church regulations this week that will change the way that the Catholic Church handles sexual abuse claims internally. The papal law has many requirements including mandating all church leaders to report sex abuse and cover-ups to other church leaders. It also requires the adoption of a new anonymous reporting system to be available at all dioceses.
Tim Thibodeau is a professor of history at Nazareth College. He studies the Catholic Church in depth. His reading of the document said that civil and criminal laws apply once the instances are reported to church leadership.
“As far as the investigation of a credible claim, I do think this has some teeth, but in the end this is not the criminal justice system. You’re not talking about going to the DA’s office. You’re going to a bishop’s office or archbishop’s office,” said Thibodeau. “I think it’s a remarkable document in the sense that it’s been four years in the making. And I think it’s been a long awaited and much needed solution to a huge problem.”
For Leander James, an attorney who has worked extensively on sexual abuse cases in the church, this is far from a fix for the problem. Among his complaints is that the church law does not require witnesses to report the claims to local police or authorities. James has three suggestions that he believes would stop abuse in the church.
“I think it’s the same old system. It’s just putting a neat clean document with requirements that now the pope has put on the Catholic clergy that maybe wasn’t there before. But it’s not changing things meaningfully,” said James. “Put lay people in positions of power over the clerics, put women in positions of power within the church, ordain women, women priests for example, and let them be a part of the structure and do away with the vow of celibacy.”
A statement from the Diocese of Rochester responded to the law in a statement:
The Diocese of Rochester wholeheartedly concurs with the statement by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, “We receive the Motu Proprio Vos estis lux mundi (‘You are the light of the world’) as a blessing that will empower the Church everywhere to bring predators to justice, no matter what rank they hold in the Church. It also permits the Church the time and opportunity to bring spiritual healing.”