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Pope issues sweeping reforms to combat church-related sexual abuse & cover-ups

Pope issues sweeping reforms to combat church-related sexual abuse & cover-ups
The Vatican has issued new universal norms for handling sexual abuse cases, designed to protect victims and hold bishops accountable for cover-ups. Every diocese will now be required to have a transparent reporting system.

The Pope’s declaration, ostentatiously titled ‘Vos estis lux mundi’ (you are the light of the world), will require an accessible and simple system for reporting abuse in every diocese. The new rules go into effect on June 1, 2019 and the reporting systems should be put in place by June 2020.

The crimes of sexual abuse offend Our Lord, cause physical, psychological and spiritual damage to the victims and harm the community of the faithful,” he wrote, assigning bishops the central role in handling such cases.

Thursday’s announcement is the most sweeping measure taken by the church to date in order to combat widespread accusations of sexual abuse. On top of requiring the allegations to be promptly reported to church higher-ups, it mandates mechanisms be in place to investigate all reported sex crimes – including those that happened in the distant past. The crimes include not only sexual abuse of minors, but also adults and “vulnerable people” such as the disabled.

The papal document also targets the production and possession of child pornography. Anyone being investigated will be entitled to the presumption of innocence.

There are some limitations to the measures, however. Many have demanded that such investigations be conducted in tandem with law enforcement and lay specialists, which the Pope’s document does not explicitly require. While the document strongly recommends bringing in outside experts, the bishop has the final say and responsibility.

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The Pope’s document follows years of revelations of sexual abuse inside the church, predominantly targeting minors. In March, a close ally of Pope Francis himself, Cardinal George Pell, was sentenced to 6 years in prison for child sex crimes.

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