Tuesday, 17 May 2011

New Vatican Guidelines on Sexual Abuse: A Step On the Way but Still A Disgrace

The Vatican, CNN reports, has released a new set of guidelines on how to handle sexual abuse allegations against clergy. In light of the virtual storm of criticism against the established practice of the Catholic Church (except in some local branches, such as Sweden) to shield accused priests or congregation members from police investigation, this was expected. The new guidelines also do state that when required by the law in the jurisdiction in question, allegations and suspicions should be reported to the police. However, the guidelines leave a loophole for those jurisdictions where reporting is not a legal obligation.

In other words, what the Vatican here does is to make the most minimal adjustment possible in order to adapt to the criticism. It is – as I have been arguing in another post – apparently still all about minding the integrity of the institution of the church, rather than caring for justice and the victims of abuse. That is, the institution that habitually holds itself out as the moral beacon of over a billion people has not found reason to ponder the ethical implications of continuing to provide room for the practice of shielding suspected grave criminals from legal investigation and denying justice for victims of grave crimes. What has been added to the old policy merely seems to be the analysis that the global public outrage caused by it threatens to become a greater threat to the integrity and popularity of the church than legally required police investigations into reportable criminal abuses would. That is, as to ethics, the Roman Catholic Church reasons just as any amoral business corporation, whose "ethics" consists merely of the dictum to follow any legal rules of any jurisdiction where it operates.

Fine case of a moral beacon that is. Given the background story, while the adjustment of church policy is a step on the way, it is also a complete disgrace. I mean, how hard can it be to state the obvious: if you receive allegations about or suspect the occurrence of a grave crime, this shall be reported to the legal authorities. This is what citizens of all jurisdictions are expected to do – regardless of if, in that jurisdiction, this also happens to be a legal obligation.