Pope's new rules on reporting sexual abuse - 'a massive step forward'

On Thursday, Pope Francis issued a broad new church law that obligates the reporting by clergy of cases of sexual abuse and cover-ups.

It's seen as an attempt to contain the sexual abuse scandal haunting the Roman Catholic Church.

Africa Melane discusses the implications of the Apostolic letter with Catholic archbishop of the Diocese of Cape Town, Stephen Breslin.

The archbishop says what is of crucial importance is the broadening of the definition of a vulnerable person from minors to include adults.

He explains that adults might find themselves in awe of a priest and the authority this figure has, making them open to abuse.

The decree also gives specifics about dealing with cases involving senior church officials.

This now gives the procedure for reporting a case that is against a bishop or somebody in authority in the church.

Stephen Breslin, Roman Catholic archbishop of Cape Town

He notes that in South Africa a system has been in place since around 2002, with every metropolitan archdiocese in the country having access to a 'professional conduct committee' to deal with sexual abuse cases.

This consists mostly of lay professional people, for example the Cape Town professional conduct committee has a psychiatrist on it, a psychologist, a lawyer, a judge, a social worker and so on.

Stephen Breslin, Roman Catholic archbishop of Cape Town

In every one of our parishes the process for reporting clerical abuse is displayed on notice boards and in catechism classrooms and halls and so on.

Stephen Breslin, Roman Catholic archbishop of Cape Town

If there is an allegation, we take it very, very seriously.... The bishop himself does not become part of that investigation. It is given over to the professional conduct committee precisely to prevent any cover-up.

Stephen Breslin, Roman Catholic archbishop of Cape Town

Archbishop Breslin adds that when a crime has been committed it must be dealt with according to the civil law of the country concerned.

This means reporting the case to the police and it's only once this process is concluded that the church steps in to do its own investigation.

For more on Pope Francis' decree and the situation in South Africa, listen below:


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