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Italian bishops defend decision on abuse reporting

By Sarah Mac Donald - 01 April, 2014

Guidelines exempt bishops from reporting abuse cases to civil authorities.

Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco

Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco

The president of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, has defended the Italian Church’s safeguarding guidelines which exempt bishops from reporting cases of child sexual abuse by clergy.

Cardinal Bagnasco told reporters at the weekend in Genoa that the Church’s moral obligation to victims outweighs juridical obligations.

The president of the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI) described the guidelines as an expression of concern for the victims’ right to privacy saying Italian law does not require mandatory reporting and victims may not want bishops to report their allegations.

“We priests have to be very careful to respect the privacy, discretion and sense of reserve [of victims], we’ve got to be sensitive to the trauma of victims who do not want to be thrust into the public eye,” he said.

However, writing in Monday’s Irish Times, Marie Collins, a survivor of clerical abuse who has been appointed to the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, recalled that at a Vatican symposium on clerical sexual abuse two years ago, she spoke to bishops and congregational leaders from around the world about her personal experience.

“While some attendees did ‘get it’, there was on the other extreme those who confidently stated that, for cultural reasons, abuse did not exist in their countries,” she said.

She also highlighted that there were “also the entrenched old attitudes and beliefs in respect of ‘scandal’ and ‘canon law’ and the importance of ‘confidentiality’, all the things that have led the Church to the situation it is in today.”

According to Marie Collins this concern with confidentiality and scandal means it will be “an uphill task” to “move these men forward.”

The Italian Episcopal Conference’s guidelines were issued on Friday in response to the call by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith in May 2011 for all national conferences around the world to prepare such guidelines.

The revised Italian guidelines stated, “Given that in the Italian penal code, a bishop is neither a public official nor is he in charge of a public entity, then he has no juridical obligation to report to state judicial authorities any information he may have with regard to illegal doings”.

Cardinal Bagnasco, who serves as Archbishop of the city of Genoa, said the decision by the Italian bishops not to make reporting allegations mandatory would not be in breach of Vatican rules.

“The Vatican requires national laws to be respected, and we know that there is no such duty [to report abuse] under Italian law,” he said.

Survivors group SNAP have condemned the guidelines as demonstrating the “stunning, depressing and irresponsible contradiction between what Vatican officials say about abuse and do about abuse.”

They also criticised Pope Francis for not amending the Vatican requirement, which “gives Italian bishops permission to ignore or conceal the rape of boys or girls.”

In her column in Monday’s Irish Times, Marie Collins wrote that at the Vatican symposium two years ago she spoke of the devastating effect the abuse at the hands of a Dublin priest when she was a 13 year old child sick in Crumlin Hospital had on her life and family and of the “destructive treatment later by the servants of the Church, when trying to bring my abuser to justice.”

“I spoke of what I felt was needed in the Church in change of attitude and in practical terms to ensure others did not have the same experiences.”

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