Pope Francis Requires Priests and Nuns to Report Sex Abuse, But Doesn't Mandate Contacting Police

On Thursday, Pope Francis announced a sweeping change to the way the Catholic Church responds to allegations of sexual abuse, but the measure doesn’t require church officials to notify law enforcement, sparking criticism that it doesn’t go far enough to protect survivors.

Local church officials now are obligated to “report promptly” any allegations of abuse and cover-up, with archbishops or clerics sending word to the Vatican, which has 30 days to decide whether to launch an investigation that itself must be finished within 90 days, reports Vatican News.

In addition, by June 2020, each diocese must set up “stable and easily accessible systems for submission of reports” by the public, although the design of such confidential systems or offices was left to the discretion of the local church, according to the pope’s decree.

The papal document assures that whistleblowers within the church will not face retaliation, but stops short of requiring them to report alleged abuse to police, according to Associated Press.

The changes announced Thursday were not embraced by those who’ve advocated for victims.

“The new Vatican laws concerning the reporting of sexual abuse continue the secrecy which has enabled clergy sexual abuse to exist, allows the Catholic Church to continue to ineffectively self-police and basically discourages victims from just calling the police,” Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who has specialized in abuse cases and was portrayed in the movie Spotlight by Stanley Tucci, said in a statement shared with PEOPLE.

“History has taught us that the Vatican, with its self-proclaimed law and procedures, is incapable of protecting innocent children from being sexually abused,” he said.

The new papal order follows an unprecedented February summit in Rome where survivors urged the church to adopt a zero-tolerance policy in abuse cases, reports CBS News.

Although Pope Francis himself didn’t attend a meeting between survivors and bishops to address the issue, the pressure he faced to more forcefully respond to the decades-long scandal of sexual abuse within the church had continued to build.

The decree also comes as U.S. bishops are preparing to meet next month to consider new steps toward accountability in abuse claims.

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“We have said for years that priests must conform to certain strict rules, so why shouldn’t bishops and others in the hierarchy do the same?” said Cardinal Marc Ouellet, head of the Vatican office for bishops, reports AP. “It’s not just a law, but a profound responsibility.”

Changes set forth in the papal document affect only the reporting and investigation of abuse, but do not propose any revisions in penalties for those found guilty, according to The New York Times.

The changes also are experimental and temporary, to be revisited in three years, the outlet reports.

But the pope’s message nonetheless acknowledged the need for change, stating that for abuse to “never happen again, a continuous and profound conversion of hearts is needed, attested by concrete and effective actions that involve everyone in the Church,” he wrote.

“Even if so much has already been accomplished,” he added, “we must continue to learn from the bitter lessons of the past, looking with hope toward the future.”

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