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The Vatican has posted an official guide on its procedures concerning sexual abuse allegations — spelling out a policy that “civil law concerning reporting of crimes to the appropriate authorities should always be followed.” In other words, bishops should report such crimes to police, rather than only alerting their superiors within the church hierarchy.

Catholic News Service reports that the guide, which lists the investigative steps, trial options and possible penalities for clergy sex abuse of minors, aims at clearing up confusion and anger regarding the church’s perceived slow, inadequate responses to cases of pedophile priests — including Pope Benedict’s own actions as pontiff and when he was still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

The Associated Press reports that the Vatican offered no explanation for the new instructions, though officials say this remains consistent with the church’s canon law, which did not prevent bishops from reporting suspected crimes to the police. (This has been the official policy for several years now in America, instituted by U.S. bishops after the 2002 wave of abuse revelations.)

I’ve complained about the Catholic Church’s internal disciplinary process before, which disturbs me not only because the in-house focus has resulted in protecting pedophile priests and the church’s reputation at the expense of victimized children, while also — as with Orthodox Jewish attempts to handle abuse cases through religious courts — being unqualified to properly investigate physical crimes of this nature. (“CSI: The Holy See” might make a good TV series, though.) On the other hand, a Religion News Service colleague has pointed out that it’s not so easy to have a one-size-fits-all requirement that every accusation be reported to the secular authorities, given that this is a global church, with clergy in countries that don’t exactly have due process and fair treatment of Christians in general. Fair point, but with this new guide, it appears the Catholic Church has decided that this is a risk worth taking after all.

Meanwhile, SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, thinks this one-sentence addition doesn’t go far enough. What do you think? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

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