Vatican to Bishops: You Should Report Abusive Priests
...but we won't make you do so
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted May 16, 2011 6:27 AM CDT
Pope Benedict XVI waves to pilgrims as he arrives at St. Peter's Square in the Vatican for his weekly general audience on May 11, 2011. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO   (Getty Images)

(Newser) – In a letter to bishops around the world, the Vatican today stated the importance of cooperating with police in reporting sexually abusive priests—but it does not make such reporting mandatory. The AP calls the suggestions "vague" and "nonbinding," and notes that they fall short of US norms. The Vatican has said such a binding rule would be problematic for priests working in countries with repressive regimes. The letter asks the bishops' conferences to draft abuse prevention guidelines by next May.

In the US, a credibly accused priest is barred from public church work while the accusations are investigated. The guidance in the letter, on the other hand, simply reminds bishops that they can "limit the exercise of the cleric's ministry until the accusations are clarified." Victims' advocates say the only way to truly root out the problem is to diminish the power given to bishops, but the letter actually reinforces the authority of bishops by specifying that any lay review boards tasked with overseeing the church's child protection policies "cannot substitute" for bishops' judgment and power.