VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – The Vatican panel that must produce annual reports on the prevention of child abuse within the Catholic Church will not deliver its first comprehensive review until 2024, its secretary said on Friday.
In April, after a broader constitutional overhaul of Vatican structures, Pope Francis gave the Pontifical Council for the Protection of Minors the mandate to produce the reports.
Clerical sexual abuse and cover-up scandals have rocked the 1.35 billion-member Catholic Church for decades, undermining its moral authority and taking a heavy toll on members and coffers.
Greater transparency, new reporting procedures and tougher penalties for abusers and those who do not prosecute them are part of Francis’ declared “zero tolerance” response.
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“By October next year we’ll have a good idea of what we mean, (but) I don’t think we’ll have data in place until the following year, 2024,” the panel secretary said. , Father Andrew Small. .
Briefing reporters, he said the council, which has 20 lay and religious members, including an advocate for victims of abuse, would release a limited “master plan” report in 2023.
Father Small said he was unsure “how much actionable data” he would have, while the 2024 report will contain “assessments of gaps, holes and loopholes”.
Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of BishopAccountability.org, a respected US organization that tracks abuse, complained that the Vatican commission was moving too slowly.
“It’s a long time for the public to wait before knowing where children are at risk of sexual abuse,” she said of the 2024 publication date, in a statement to Reuters. .
The Vatican panel is meant to oversee efforts by national Catholic churches to adapt to and enforce new provisions against child abuse introduced in recent years.
Its mandate does not extend to examining specific cases of abuse or cover-up, although its report may include data on the number of such cases known to the Vatican’s disciplinary office.
Barrett Doyle said this was a major shortcoming.
“The commission is prohibited from reviewing individual cases. This will hamper them enormously. How can they make a meaningful judgment without having access to the evidence,” she said.
Francis created the commission in 2014, a year after his election, to promote best practices and a culture of safeguarding in Catholic communities around the world.
The panel got off to a rocky start, with several members resigning in frustration, complaining that it had no teeth and that they had encountered internal resistance.
In March, the pope boosted the commission’s influence when a new Holy See constitution placed it within the Vatican’s doctrinal department, which adjudicates cases of abuse.
(Reporting by Alvise Armellini and Philip Pullella, editing by Andrew Cawthorne and David Gregorio)
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