Vat­i­can to judge bish­ops who pro­tect abusers

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Tom Kington Kington is a spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent.

Pope Fran­cis has cre­ated a tri­bunal at the Vat­i­can to hear cases against bish­ops ac­cused of cov­er­ing up sex­ual abuse by priests.

ROME — In a re­sponse to crit­ics who charge that the Ro­man Catholic Church is drag­ging its feet on stop­ping child abuse, Pope Fran­cis has cre­ated a tri­bunal at the Vat­i­can to judge bish­ops ac­cused of cov­er­ing up for abu­sive priests.

Af­ter a wave of scan­dals, from the United States to Australia, the church has be­gun to crack down on priests who sex­u­ally abuse chil­dren. How­ever, ac­tivists say bish­ops who pro­tect the priests con­tinue to es­cape pun­ish­ment.

Some bish­ops have been ac­cused of mov­ing priests to a new parish af­ter they are ac­cused of abus­ing chil­dren, only to see the same prob­lem again.

In a state­ment re­leased Wed­nes­day, the Vat­i­can said the new tri­bunal within its Con­gre­ga­tion for the Doc­trine of the Faith would “judge bish­ops with re­gard to crimes of the abuse of of­fice when con­nected to the abuse of mi­nors.”

“The Con­gre­ga­tion has never judged bish­ops for abuse of of­fice; that needed au­tho­riza­tion from the pope,” Vat­i­can spokesman Fa­ther Fed­erico Lom­bardi said. “Now we have a regular pro­ce­dure.”

The new tri­bunal was greeted with skep­ti­cism by the Sur­vivors Net­work of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, an anti-abuse group.

“The pope has vir­tu­ally lim­it­less power,” the group said in a state­ment. “By now, he could have sacked dozens of com­plicit bish­ops. He has, how­ever, sacked no one.”

The group said that in the face of “wide­spread de­nial, timid­ity and in­ac­tion” in the Catholic Church, “let’s be pru­dent, stay vig­i­lant and with­hold judg­ment un­til we see if and how this panel might act.”

The pa­pal move is in re­sponse to sug­ges­tions made by a panel of ex­perts, in­clud­ing vic­tims, that Fran­cis ap­pointed to ad­vise him on how to guard against abuse.

Amer­i­can Cardinal Sean O’Mal­ley, who heads the abuse com­mis­sion, pre­sented the pro­posal Mon­day to the group of nine car­di­nals ad­vis­ing Fran­cis on re­form­ing the Vat­i­can’s scle­rotic bu­reau­cracy. The group ap­proved the mea­sure, as did Fran­cis, who also pro­vided fund­ing to staff the tri­bunal.

The Vat­i­can abuse com­mis­sion has be­gun to make its voice heard since it was cre­ated last year.

In April, a Bri­tish mem­ber who was once abused by priests threat­ened to re­sign un­less Fran­cis dropped a bishop ac­cused of cov­er­ing up abuse. Peter Saun­ders protested the Vat­i­can’s ap­point­ment in Jan­uary of Chilean Bishop Juan Bar­ros, who is ac­cused of wit­ness­ing abuse by an­other priest. Both Bar­ros and San­ders re­main in their po­si­tions.

This month, Saun­ders al­leged in a TV pro­gram that Cardinal Ge­orge Pell had cov­ered up abuse in Australia, prompt­ing a de­mand from Pell’s lawyer that Saun­ders with­draw the al­le­ga­tion.

Pell, who was brought to Rome by Fran­cis to clean up the Vat­i­can’s murky f inances, is among the group of se­nior car­di­nals who ap­proved the new tri­bunal.

Gre­go­rio Borgia AP

U.S. CARDINAL Sean O’Mal­ley pre­sented the tri­bunal pro­posal to car­di­nals ad­vis­ing the pope.

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