Pope Creates Tribunal for Bishop Negligence in Child Sexual Abuse Cases

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from The New York Times,

Responding to years of complaints from victims of clergy sexual abuse, the Vatican announced on Wednesday that Pope Francis had approved a plan to subject Roman Catholic bishops to judgment and discipline by a new tribunal if they are accused of covering up or failing to prevent misconduct.

The tribunal is intended to address what victims’ advocacy groups say has been, at best, decades of mishandling of sexual abuse cases involving minors by clergy, and at worst, the covering up of abuses by priests. Bishops aware of complaints of misconduct frequently shifted priests from one parish to another, where patterns of sexual abuse continued.

Among their complaints, advocacy groups say the Vatican has refused to systematically discipline clerics who covered up pedophilia crimes. Over the years, the church has adopted a series of measures to address the abuse of children by priests, but critics say that the Vatican has persistently put its reputation over the interests of the victims by refusing to sanction church officials who did not sufficiently protect minors.

Victims advocates have been pressing for years for the Vatican to hold negligent bishops accountable, but neither Pope John Paul II nor Pope Benedict moved toward instituting mechanisms to do so. Until now, bishops could only be called to account by the pope himself, and that rarely happened in any public way.

The creation of the tribunal now marks a significant step in holding bishops accountable for the abuses of priests under their charge. Francis’s predecessor, Benedict, reorganized and streamlined the Vatican’s procedures for dealing with priests accused of abuse, but action was slow to come. The move by Francis becomes part of what has been a far more frontal, public and assertive stance in addressing an unseemly legacy for the church.

The church has procedures for judging priests accused of abuse, but until now bishops accused of negligence or cover-ups were almost never held accountable by the church itself.

The procedures were proposed by a commission that Francis appointed early in his papacy to examine “best practices” for dealing with sexual abuse and suggest reforms. The group, called the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, includes victims of abuse by priests.

Barbara Blaine, president of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, a support and advocacy group for victims, said in a statement that she suspected that the new panel “won’t make a difference” because it relies on church officials to judge other church officials. She said that a more effective move would be for the church to support the reform of secular laws to strengthen the prosecution of those responsible for abuse.

“This is a promising first step, that at a stroke provides a structure, personnel, a budget and a brief for actually acting in these matters,” said Terence McKiernan, president of BishopAccountability.org, a private Boston-based group that documents cases of sexual abuse by priests. “What’s done with this will be interesting to see.” Mr. McKiernan said in a telephone interview that he was optimistic that the “church’s goal is to handle things better.”

But he also noted that the current prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, Cardinal Gerhard L. Müller, had one case in his past that he should be held accountable for. “He acted atrociously in one abuse case in Germany; he has a bad track record,” Mr. McKiernan said

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