Media reports are wrong to claim that the Vatican is telling new bishops that they don’t have to report sexual abuse, Holy See spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said.
A reported comment from a Vatican consultant is “not in any way — as someone has mistakenly interpreted — a new Vatican document or a new instruction or new 'guidelines' for bishops,” Fr. Lombardi said Feb. 11.
The news reports concerned a statement from French Monsignor Tony Anatrella, who contributed to a 2015 formation course for new bishops organized by the Congregation for Bishops.
Msgr. Anatrella, a consultant to the Pontifical Council for the Family and the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, wrote a document with a section reflecting on countries’ civil laws that mandate abuse reporting.
The document said “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.” Msgr. Anatrella said that decision is up to victims and their families.
Some media reports depicted the monsignor’s statements as an encouragement to cover up sexual abuse or as a claim that it is “not necessarily” a bishop’s duty to report sexual abuse in cases where laws require it.
However, Fr. Lombardi rejected this idea, saying that “Anatrella does not say anything new or different than what has been said by the competent ecclesiastical institutions.”
He directed reporters to a May 3, 2011 letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
There, the congregation told episcopal conferences that it is important to cooperate with civil authorities in responding to sexual abuse crimes. Without compromising the sacraments, it said, “the prescriptions of civil law regarding the reporting of such crimes to the designated authority should always be followed.”
Fr. Lombardi also noted that the comment is part of a single report of a collected volume from an expert conference on the formation of new bishops. That report was “published together with several others on different topics.”