Italian bishops to apply disputed anti-abuse rules

The Catholic Church in Italy from Sunday will implement new guidelines against child sex abuse that have proved controversial because they impose a "moral duty" but no legal obligation to report allegations to the police.

Italian bishops to apply disputed anti-abuse rules
The Italian Bishops' Conference 2013. File photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

The rules also oblige Catholic dioceses to exclude anyone with prior convictions involving children from working with minors, but make an exception for volunteers who are not subject to the same requirement.

In an official document published on Friday, the Italian Bishops' Conference said that this exception "does not exclude the possibility or opportunity of requiring a copy of criminal records also for them".

The guidelines state that collaborating with judicial authorities is "important" but at the discretion of bishops — unlike in Germany or Ireland where Catholic bishops' conferences have imposed more binding rules.

Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, Italy's top cleric, defended the decision earlier saying: "The Vatican requires national laws to be respected, and we know that there is no such duty (to report abuse) under Italian law".

But the guidelines have sparked fury among victim support groups, with the US-based Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) deploring the "stunning, depressing and irresponsible contradiction between what Vatican officials say about abuse, and do about abuse."

The Church has repeatedly been accused by victims of covering up abuse by priests and simply moving predator clerics from one diocese to another rather than reporting them, thereby putting other children at risk.

Bishops in possession of information on possible abuse cases have been required by the Vatican to report to the authorities since 2010, but only in those countries where they are required to do so under national law.

Pope Francis has defended the Church, saying it has done more than "any other institution" in tackling paedophilia, and last month he appointed a woman who had been molested by a priest as a child as part of a new commission on fighting clerical sexual abuse.

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