Plagued by Abuse Scandals, Vatican Pledges to Work with Police

Amnesty International has included the Vatican in its list of human rights abusers

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The Vatican today told bishops worldwide to report cases of priest sex abuse to local police, a policy that seems late to the game after a littany of sex abuse scandals dogged the Catholic Church throughout the 2000s. But critics immediately slammed the non-binding order as toothless. The new policy could have something to do with recent U.S. lawsuits aimed at the Vatican, as well as Amnesty International's inclusion of the city-state in its 2011 report on global human rights abusers, released Friday.

Today's message to bishops "is telling the world that we mean business," a Vatican official said. But while the letter to bishops calls for each diocese to draw up its own set of guidelines and submit them to the Vatican for review, there is no enforcement mechanism to the new rules, and critics have blasted the requirements as vague. "There's nothing that will make a child safer today or tomorrow or next month or next year," said Barbara Doris, a spokeswoman for the Survivors Network for Those Abused by Priests.

The Vatican's announcement comes after a tough few weeks for the Holy See. On Thursday, a federal lawsuit filed in Chicago said the Vatican was ultimately responsible for the actions of Father Daniel McCormack, who pleaded guilty in 2007 to abusing five children. In a 2008 settlement, the Archdiocese of Chicago agreed to release documents related to abusive priests, but so far had not. A federal court decision in Oregon in late April ordered the Vatican to share documents in an abuse case from the 1960s.

Charges of Church cover-ups led Amnesty International to label the Vatican a human rights abuser in its annual Human Rights Report this year. The charge reads:

Increasing evidence of widespread child sexual abuse committed by members of the clergy over the past decades, and of the enduring failure of the Catholic Church to address these crimes properly, continued to emerge in various countries. Such failures included not removing alleged perpetrators from their posts pending proper investigations, not co-operating with judicial authorities to bring them to justice and not ensuring proper reparation to victims.

The Vatican has resisted calls to implement binding rules forcing priests to comply with local law enforcement, saying that would be a problem for priests working in countries with repressive regimes.

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