Bishop encouraged by new mandatory abuse reporting edict

STEUBENVILLE — Diocese of Steubenville Bishop Jeffrey Monforton said he’s “encouraged” by the new mandatory abuse reporting edict instituted Thursday by Pope Francis.

The pope’s edict requires each diocese to protect minors and vulnerable adults, including nuns and seminarians, by moving quickly to develop a confidential system for the general public to report abuse and coverups. It also requires clerics and other church leaders to report any abuse or cover-ups and prohibits retaliation against whistleblowers.

In addition, all accusations must be reported to the Vatican.

“The recent papal document reminds us that all victims of sexual abuse and their families deserve justice,” Monforton said in a statement released this morning. “I am encouraged by the new norms on mandatory abuse reporting issued by the Pope Francis. All entrusted with the care of souls, especially bishops and those in church authority, have an obligation to protect all people from abuse, especially the most vulnerable. This is an appropriate time review all child protection protocols, including reporting systems and standards in the Diocese of Steubenville.”

The diocese said the new juridical instrument is meant to “help bishops and religious leaders around the world clearly understand their duties and church law, underlining how they are ultimately responsible for proper governance and protecting those entrusted to their care.”

“For this reason, the new document establishes a clearer set of universal procedures for reporting suspected abuse, carrying out initial investigations and protecting victims and whistleblowers,” the diocese stated.

New church law issued today outlines investigation procedures when the accused is a bishop or religious superior. It’s the latest effort by the pope to respond to the global eruption of the sex abuse and cover-up scandal.

Some key points of the new protocol, entitled “You are the light of the world”:

∫ Makes all Catholic priests and religious sisters mandated reporters for sex abuse and cover-up to church authorities, though not to police or law enforcement. Provides whistleblower protections saying those reporting misconduct may not suffer “prejudice, retaliation or discrimination.”

∫ Requires every diocese to have a public and accessible system through which claims of sexual abuse and cover-up can be reported confidentially. Dioceses must confirm to the Vatican that the system is in place by June 1, 2020.

∫ Outlines procedures to conduct preliminary investigations of bishops and religious superiors accused of sexual misconduct or cover-up. The metropolitan bishop, responsible for the broad geographic region of the accused, receives the initial report, requests permission from the Vatican to investigate and completes a preliminary probe within 90 days.

∫ Allows for “qualified” lay experts to help in investigations.

∫ Requires that victims reporting abuse be welcomed, listened to and supported by the hierarchy, and offered spiritual, medical and psychological assistance. Requires the victim be told the outcome of the investigation if he or she requests it.

∫ Suggests the creation of a special fund to pay for investigations and reporting mechanisms.

∫ Defines the sex crimes that must be reported as: Performing sexual acts with a minor or vulnerable person; forcing someone by “violence, threat or through abuse of authority, to perform or submit to sexual acts;” production, exhibition, possession or distribution of child pornography, as well as inducing minor or vulnerable person to participate in exhibiting porn.

∫ Defines cover-ups that must be reported as “Actions or omissions intended to interfere with or avoid civil investigations or canonical investigations.”