As the Catholic church reckons with decades of indifference to clergy abusing children, some followers are finding both their faith and their patience tested.
Catholics worldwide are intently watching how the Vatican addresses the issue, while a new controversy has revealed just how far the church has to go in making amends for this dark chapter.
Training guidelines for new bishops prepared by French Monsignor Tony Anatrella, a controversial psychoanalyst and clergy member, include a section that says bishops are not legally obliged to report abuse.
"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," Anatrella said, according to Crux.
As several reports note, the guidelines were drafted without any input from the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, the group created by Pope Francis to highlight “best practices” for stamping out clergy abuse.
Anatrella's remarks and the guidelines themselves prompted anger and disbelief from critics.
Barbara Blaine, president and founder of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, said the training document is evidence that secrecy and the protection of perpetrators in the ministry -- not children -- remains the priority for the Catholic church.
"It's so blatant when they won’t even train the new bishops to make such a simple statement to call police," Blaine said.
"We believe it’s really simple: if there is an adult and a child and sex, it’s really clear [bishops] should call the police," she added.
SNAP has been highly critical of the Vatican's response to child abuse revelations, with Blaine characterizing the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors -- made of up both clergy and laypeople -- as little more than an empty gesture.
On Tuesday, the commission reportedly tried to oust one of its members, abuse survivor Peter Saunders. Saunders said the commission accused him of being difficult to work with and too open with the media, Reuters reported. Saunders, head of Britain’s National Association for People Abused in Childhood, resisted pressure to step down.
A spokesman for the Holy See said Anatrella's statements were interpreted by critics in the media as a passive position that amounts to encouraging bishops to cover up abuse. Father Federico Lombardi disputed those claims in an interview with the Catholic News Agency.
“Anatrella does not say anything new or different than what has been said by the competent ecclesiastical institutions,” Lombardi said.
Lombardi noted that Anatrella's remark is “not in any way – as someone has mistakenly interpreted – a new Vatican document or a new instruction or new 'guidelines' for bishops.”
A church official familiar with the pope's commission told The Guardian that reporting abuse to authorities outside the church was a “moral obligation, whether the civil law requires it or not.”
The official said the papal commission would be more involved in designing training going forward.
The pope has previously stated there must be "zero tolerance" toward the abuse of children.
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