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Church must follow local laws on abuse

VATICAN (CNS): Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, a leading expert in child protection, said the Church must respect the law and accept court decisions regarding clerical sexual abuse and its cover-up, in a March 15 interview with Vatican News.
Father Zollner, a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors and one of the chief organisers of the summit on child protection held at the Vatican in February, noted that in 2011, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith made it clear to bishops’ conferences around the world that the Church must obey civil laws regarding cases of abuse.
“So, if a state—in a durably democratic, regulated and legitimate situation—arrives at the conclusion that a representative of the Church, whether a deacon, priest, bishop or cardinal has committed a crime, this must not only be respected, it must be accepted. This must be the norm of the Church,” he said.
Looking back at the February meeting in the interview, Father Zollner said several bishops’ conferences have already revised or begun revising their guidelines for protecting children and handling abuse allegations.
In addition, he said that results should be seen soon on projects promised by the Vatican: namely, the promulgation of guidelines for Vatican City State; and a vademecum or handbook by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith explaining, step by step, how bishops and religious superiors should handle abuse allegations and how they should prepare the relevant documents for the doctrinal congregation when an accusation is found to be credible.
Father Zollner also noted how, “immediately after the meeting ended,” the Catholic Church experienced “very terrible and upsetting news” with the conviction and sentencing of George Cardinal Pell of Australia, on charges of sexual abuse of minors and the conviction of Philippe Cardinal Barbarin of Lyon, France, on charges of covering up abuse by a priest (Sunday Examiner, March 17).
The 68-year-old French cardinal was given a six-month suspended sentence in the case. He met with Pope Francis on March 18 and tendered his resignation.
Father Zollner said that the guilty verdicts against Cardinal Pell, who maintains his innocence and is appealing his conviction, and against Cardinal Barbarin, demonstrate that Church officials, including cardinals, are “no longer untouchable” and that governments will apply the law to them as well.

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