Vatican: Yes, Catholic bishops do have to report child abuse

The head of Pope Francis' commission on child abuse has reaffirmed the Catholic Church's commitment to act on it.Reuters

The Vatican has not changed its guidelines on reporting abuse against children, a spokesman has said.

It was widely reported last week that new bishops undertaking a Vatican course were told that they were not obliged to report abuse when it was discovered.

The policy was first reported by a Vatican journalist at Catholic news website Crux, who cited a presentation given by Monsignor Tony Anatrella.

Anatrella, a consultant to the Pontifical Council for the Family and the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, also wrote a training document for new bishops in which similar guidelines are laid out.

This document 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."

However, a Vatican spokesman has said Anatrella's document was "not in any way...a new Vatican document or a new instruction or new guidelines for bishops".

Father Federico Lombardi said Anatrella "does not say anything new or different from what has been said up until now by relevant church institutions".

Pope Francis approved new procedures last June for the Vatican to investigate claims of "abuse of office" by bishops who failed to protect children against abuse.

Anatrella said that in countries where reporting was mandatory, it was "not necessarily up to" the bishop to report to civil authorities as soon as he has learned of an accusation, but up to the alleged victim and/or the family.

However, in an interview with the French news agency iMedia, he said: "For the church, it is obvious that there must be cooperation between church tribunals and police and judicial authorities" concerning the crime of abuse.

Clarifying his remarks about reporting abuse, he said: "I said in this paragraph that the bishop or his representative will first encourage the minor-victim and his or her family to file a complaint with the police. If they do not, then it is up to the church authority to make a report."

Lombardi's statement was backed by a similar commitment from the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, which was created by Pope Francis in 2014 and is chaired by Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston.

It said in a statement: "As Pope Francis has so clearly stated, 'The crimes and sins of the sexual abuse of children must not be kept secret for any longer. I pledge the zealous vigilance of the Church to protect children and the promise of accountability for all'.

"We, the president and the members of the commission, wish to affirm that our obligations under civil law must certainly be followed, but even beyond these civil requirements, we all have a moral and ethical responsibility to report suspected abuse to the civil authorities who are charged with protecting our society."