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Vatican releases Church response procedure for sex abuse cases

[JURIST] The Vatican [official website] on Monday released Church procedures [text] for handling alleged cases of sexual abuse by priests, instructing, "Civil law concerning reporting of crimes to the appropriate authorities should always be followed." The "Guide to Understanding Basic CDF Procedures concerning Sexual Abuse Allegations" summarizes the procedures governing investigations by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) [official profile] into allegations of sex abuse by clergy members. The CDF guidelines provide for interim measures meant to ensure the safety of others during civil authorities' investigations or legal proceedings:

During the preliminary stage and until the case is concluded, the bishop may impose precautionary measures to safeguard the community, including the victims. Indeed, the local bishop always retains power to protect children by restricting the activities of any priest in his diocese. This is part of his ordinary authority, which he is encouraged to exercise to whatever extent is necessary to assure that children do not come to harm, and this power can be exercised at the bishop's discretion before, during and after any canonical proceeding.

The guidelines also outline a multi-tiered system of enforcement and appeals, including local bishops, the CDF, and the Pope himself.

Since 2007, in the US alone the Church has settled over 500 cases [JURIST news archive] of abuse for over $900 million. In April 2001, Pope John Paul II issued the Motu Proprio Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela (MP SST) [text], which gave the CDF responsibility for overseeing the Church's approach to instances of sexual abuse. That document was prepared by Cardinal Ratzinger, who became Pope Benedict XVI in 2005. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) [official website] reports having received allegations from 14,000 victims against 5,600 priests between 1950-2008. The official numbers are found in the 2004 John Jay Report [text] commissioned by the USCCB and the subsequent implementation report [text, PDF] from 2008. Estimates [BishopAccountability.org report] of the total number of US children who were abused since 1950 range from 25,000 to close to 300,000.

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