It used to be that sexual abuse by Catholic priests was a secret of which no one dared to speak. In recent years though, a history of abuse has been brought to light. In the last ten years, the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith - the church office that is responsible for investigating abuse - has received more than 4,000 claims of sexual abuse by priests. It is expected that many more instances of clergy abuse have gone unreported.
As these claims have been made public, the church has routinely been accused of protecting abusive priests, trying to hide claims of abuse and obstructing the legal process. Now, a new order from the Vatican's doctrinal chief aims to shift this perception and, hopefully, the church's practice.
Cardinal William J. Levada, the leader of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, told Catholic bishops last month that they have a duty to "cooperate" in civil cases alleging clergy abuse of minors. He also encouraged bishops to be "more proactive" in dealing with claims of child sexual abuse.
It is important to note, though, that the Cardinal did not go so far as to require bishops to report abusive priests to law enforcement officials.
The church is hailing the move as a great step forward in dealing with claims of pervasive clergy abuse. Victim's advocates, however, aren't as pleased.
Many groups, including the Chicago-based Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests say the Cardinal's order is more about public relations than about actually addressing the problem of child sexual abuse by priests.
Source: Washington Post, "Cardinal Says Bishops Must 'Cooperate' With Police on Abuse," Alessandro Speciale, Feb. 6, 2012.