Shapiro, Survivors Criticize Pope Francis’s New Rules For Reporting Abuse

May 9, 2019

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro is criticizing the Catholic Church, saying the new rules regarding reporting of sexual misconduct don’t go far enough.

Pope Francis issued the sweeping new regulations Thursday, which require priests and nuns to report abuse and cover-ups to church authorities, but not to police.

“I’ve said many times the church cannot be trusted to police itself,” Shapiro said after a press conference at the Allegheny County Courthouse Thursday afternoon. “Creating additional, internal workarounds is not the answer.”

A similar critique came from the Midwest chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP.

“A lack of policies or procedures has never been the main problem in the clergy sex abuse scandal,” the organization said in a prepared statement. “Rather, it has been a lack of accountability for hierarchs who conceal sex crimes and a deficit of courage and willingness to take immediate, decisive action on those who have enabled those crimes to occur.”

Shapiro and SNAP both say that the church should require that abuse and cover-ups be reported to law enforcement, not just to internal church authorities.

In August 2018, Shapiro’s office released a 900-page report detailing decades of alleged misconduct and cover-ups in six of the state’s eight Roman Catholic dioceses. The report implicated abuse of children by 300 “predator priests” in the dioceses of Pittsburgh, Scranton, Allentown, Harrisburg, Greensburg, and Erie.

“They ignored their responsibilities as mandated reporters. They ignored their responsibilities to do what was right. And instead they hid this information from law enforcement, from parishioners, from the media and from the public,” Shapiro said Thursday, regarding the results of his investigation.

The Rev. Lawrence Persico, bishop of the Diocese of Erie, said in a release that he welcomes “these new norms which call us to an ever greater accountability in the protection of children and vulnerable adults.”

Diocese of Pittsburgh spokesman Father Ron Lengwin said in an interview Thursday evening that it has always been the policy of the Pittsburgh diocese for people go to police with abuse allegations.

 

"We continue to encourage anyone who's been the object of sexual abuse by clergy or anyone involved with the church volunteer employee to contact law enforcement without delay," Lengwin said.

 

He added that the Pope's guidance would establish an "independent third party system for reporting misconduct." The "church healing commission" would include people who are "Catholic and non-Catholic" and abuse victims and survivors. He encouraged anyone who suspects abuse of a current minor to call Pennsylvania ChildLine.

 

This story was updated on 5/9/19 6:21 p.m. to include a comment from the Diocese of Pittsburgh. 

WESA's Sarah Boden and Katie Blackley contributed to this report.