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Catholic Church Sex Abuse Claims Must Be Immediately Reported, Pope Decrees

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Pope Francis has issued an edict, which orders that all Catholic Church sex abuse claims must be reported immediately by Vatican officials.

In a Motu Proprio (in Italian) issued on March 29, the Pope established actions the church would take to protect minors and vulnerable persons from sexual assault. The edict contains a number of protocols that the Pope says should be used to address sex abuse within the Roman Catholic Church, and is reportedly the first of its kind.

The protocols go into effect on June 1, and specifically applies to Vatican personnel and personnel at Vatican embassies worldwide. Failure to comply with the edict can result in a $5,500 fine or up to six months imprison.

The edict also increases the statute of limitations for seeking charges or filing a complaint over child abuse against members of the Vatican to up to 20 years after the alleged victim turns 18.

The action only applies to Vatican personnel, because such an edict would not be enforceable among those who are not official members of the Vatican, which operates as an independent nation. Thus, it is not enforceable among priests and other church officials around the world, but is considered guidance for their behavior.

Church officials say the Pope wants the edict to serve as a model for the entire church. However, critics say it does not go far enough, and indicate that the edict should include a declaration that all priests guilty of such actions will be defrocked or excommunicated.

The edict comes amid heightened attention to Catholic Church sex abuse scandals, as dioceses nationwide have been releasing lists of priests facing what the church considers credible accusations of sexual assault against minors and vulnerable adults.

The lists began to come out several months after an August 2018 grand jury report highlighted cases involving at least 90 Catholic priests accused of sex abuse in the Pittsburgh area, involving allegations and cover-ups that spanned decades.

That report indicated that the Catholic Church of Pennsylvania covered up abuse involving priests who abused more than 1,000 victims, mostly children, over the course of 70 years. After 90 of those priests were identified, it sparked investigations by the Justice Department and states’ attorneys general nationwide.

Late last month, the Vatican held a four-day conference on addressing problems of sex abuse in the Roman Catholic Church, but critics complain that the conference did not result in any concrete action.

The spotlight on the issue has renewed some efforts to level sex abuse litigation against the Church. In January, an attorney representing a number of victims announced that the Catholic Church had agreed to settle at least five sexual abuse lawsuits brought against a former priest in New Jersey.

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