Welcome to another week.
A document recently published by the Vatican for its clergy suggests that bishops are not required to report accusations of child abuse, and that only family members should make the decision to do so.
The document, used to train up new bishops states:
“According to the state of civil laws of each country where reporting is obligatory, it is not necessarily the duty of the bishop to report suspects to authorities, the police or state prosecutors in the moment when they are made aware of crimes or sinful deeds.”
The guidelines were written by a controversial senior clergyman and psychotherapist Tony Anatrella, who serves as a consultant to the Pontifical Council for the Family and is known for his conservative views on homosexuality and a downplaying of the child sexual abuse phenomenon within the Catholic Church.
On mandatory reporting however, some take the view that anyone other than family members reporting alleged abuse could be seen as an intrusion by strangers. And the Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that God was in fact above the law, and as bishops were stewards rather than employees, the law in effect did not apply to them.
Others argue that family members unable to report the allegations due to cultural pressures or the possibility of being vulnerable themselves means it is important that clergy made aware of sexual abuse allegations should act on those allegations.
The Vatican’s position also creates tension between the law and religious practice. The document clearly outlines the legal position: reporting allegations is mandatory in some states, making the Vatican’s stance a direct contravention of the law.
Our question this week, then, is just this: should religious edicts or guidelines ever be able to take priority over the laws of a country?
For further reading on the tensions between law and religion, Researching Reform produced a debate in the House of Commons on this topic, with materials, speeches and more.