The Vatican has issued a new guideline instructing its clergy to immediately report to the police any suspicion of sexual abuse by a priest. It is no longer allowed to deal with cases internally. However, victims of paedophile priests are not impressed by the move.
Guido Klabbers, himself at one point a victim church sex abuse, says reporting abuse to the authorities should have become standard practice ages ago:
“Bringing cases before a Dutch court should be common practice. However, what we have seen in practice in the past years is the development of a culture of covering everything up. To prevent these cases from coming to light, but certainly also to prevent the perpetrators from being punished.”
Looking the other way
Last year, this culture of cover-ups in the Netherlands was mercilessly exposed. In collaboration with the newspaper NRC Handelsblad, Radio Netherlands Worldwide exposed that large-scale church sex abuse had taken place in the Netherlands.
Research showed that most cases were swept under the rug. Major scandals were also exposed abroad. The Vatican, the supreme authority in the Roman Catholic Church, has now drawn up rules instructing bishops how to act when priests in their diocese are accused of abuse.
Mr Klabbers, the spokesperson for abuse victims in the Dutch Catholic Church, says it’s sad that bishops have been waiting for the Vatican to draw up rules and guidelines. “They are clearly incapable of showing their humanity and taking responsibility. Ever since last year’s revelations, they have only been looking away.
No escape clause
And yet, Mr Klabbers is reluctant to dismiss the letter to the bishops completely. ”What is new is the absence of an escape clause in the form of internal administration of justice or moving people to monasteries in France, for instance, to wait on the sidelines for things to come."
He cites the case of Belgian bishop Roger Vangheluwe who resigned last year after it emerged he had abused his nephew for years. Following orders from the Vatican, he moved to a religious community in France to undergo ‘spiritual and psychological treatment'.
Does this mean the Church will in future be less hesitant to defrock bishops and priests who have been involved in abuse? No, says ‘Vatican watcher’ Stijn Fens:
"It’s a terrible thing to do, for a bishop and for the Pope as well. We tend to compare the ecclesiastical organisation with a company, but it's actually more like a family. Bishops are brothers in the ministry. So it would be a little like the Pope renouncing his own brother”
The Vatican says seminaries must do more to prepare future priests for their life of celibacy. And in abuse cases attention should be focussed primarily on the victims. However, abuse victims spokesperson Guido Klabbers argues that for these measures to make a difference, victims must be provided with assistance by people who are completely independent from the church.