Voice of the Faithful asks again, what does zero tolerance of clergy sexual abuse really mean?

Considering convicted priest’s reinstatement and Pope Francis’ pronouncements, what does zero tolerance of clergy sexual abuse really mean?

On the heels of complaints that the Curia is blocking child protection policy reforms already approved by Pope Francis comes word that a priest convicted of child sexual abuse has been reinstated in India and that new bishops have been told they are not required to report child sex abuse to civil authorities. Neither situation conforms to the declarations Pope Francis has made that there must be zero tolerance for child sex abuse.

VOTF is left to wonder, as many Catholics do, whether Pope Francis is simply declaring a zero tolerance policy while allowing the Vatican Curia to block any meaningful child protection reforms.

In the India case, despite the so-called zero tolerance policy, The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith reportedly told Bishop Arulappan Amalraj of the Ootacamund Diocese in India that he could return Rev. Joseph Palanivel Jeyapaul to ministry, which he did. Jeyapaul pleaded guilty and was convicted in 2012 of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl in the Diocese of Crookston, Minnesota. Allegations involving a second teen were dropped in a plea deal.

In the bishops’ case, the Vatican allowed a priest to tell new bishops that reporting child sex abuse was not required, that it was a choice they had. The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, created and supported by Pope Francis, fired back this week with a press release stating that reporting abuse not only is a requirement, it’s also a bishop’s moral and ethical responsibility to do so. The statement went out over the signature of Cardinal Sean O’Malley, chair of the Pontifical Commission. The Commission had prepared a module for teaching bishops how to handle reported abuse—yet none of the commissioners, the proper leaders on the issue, was asked to deliver that message.

VOTF thus asks again, is Pope Francis promulgating recommendations of his own Pontifical Commission “for show” or is he, and the Church, serious enough about zero tolerance to actually enforce it? Seeing bishops who have covered up abuse brought before the new tribunal for bishops would be a step in the right direction. It would at least demonstrate that people who reinstate convicted abusers or tell new bishops to ignore zero tolerance will be held accountable.

Voice of the Faithful®: Voice of the Faithful® is a worldwide movement of faithful Roman Catholics working to support survivors of clergy sexual abuse, support priests of integrity and increase the laity’s role in the governance and guidance of the Church. More information is at www.votf.org.

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