Vatican forms task force to guide dioceses handling abuse allegations

The Vatican is launching a task force of experts to help Catholic dioceses and religious orders develop guidelines to handle cases of sexual abuse by clergy and tend to survivors.

The initiative was proposed last year during Pope Francis’s summit on preventing abuse. It was considered necessary given Catholic leaders in some parts of the world — mostly poor, conflict-marred areas in Africa and Asia — have failed to comply with a 2011 Vatican directive to develop the guidelines.

Task force participants said Friday that the aim is to provide legal expertise and help to dioceses and religious orders that simply don’t have the professional resources or have otherwise neglected to comply with the 2011 directive.

The guidelines are meant to establish procedures to receive complaints from victims and provide them with pastoral care, train church personnel in abuse prevention and child protection strategies, and follow the church’s internal legal procedures to investigate allegations.

The Vatican only requires allegations of abuse be reported in-house, not to police. The Vatican says church leaders must report to police only where civil laws require it.

The task force is the latest initiative by the Vatican to underline the global nature of clergy sexual abuse, after the Catholic hierarchy for decades insisted it was exclusively a problem in the English-speaking world, but cases are increasingly coming to light in Latin America and Europe.

Another initiative that is expected to be unveiled soon is an instruction manual for bishops or religious superiors for conducting canonical investigations when they receive allegations against one of their priests. Bishops around the world have for decades failed to investigate or sanction abusers, often moving them to other dioceses.

The task force is made up mostly of canon lawyers and is headed by the four church leaders who organized Francis’s February 2019 summit on abuse, including the Vatican’s longtime sex crimes prosecutor Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna, and German priest Hans Zollner, a leading child protection expert. Joined by Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich and Mumbai Cardinal Oswald Gracias, they report to the No. 2 in the Vatican’s secretariat of state, an indication of the central importance the Vatican is placing on the initiative.