Vatican Doubles Statute of Limitations on Sex Abuse

By Flavia Krause-Jackson
(c) 2010 Bloomberg News
Thursday, July 15, 2010; 12:00 AM

July 15 (Bloomberg) -- The Vatican doubled the statute of limitations for prosecuting priests for sexual abuse to 20 years as part of a revamp of its rules as allegations of misconduct by clergy spread around the globe.

The new rules were amendments to Vatican regulations dating to 2001 initially prepared when Pope Benedict XVI headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, the Vatican's doctrinal office, for then Pope John Paul II. The changes were released today in a statement on the Vatican's website.

Benedict has struggled to contain damage to the Church's reputation over its handling of allegations of sexual abuse by priests in the U.S., Ireland, Germany and most recently Belgium. The 83-year-old pontiff last month promised to do "everything possible" to shield children from pedophile clerics. Victim groups accuse church leaders of trying to cover up crimes and doing too little to prevent abuse.

The Vatican in April made public for the first time its guidelines for dealing with clerics accused of molesting minors. Besides reporting crimes to the police, Catholic bishops "must investigate every allegation of sexual abuse of a minor by a cleric," the rules say.

"If the allegation has a semblance of truth the case is referred to the CDF" and bishops are "encouraged" to restrict the activities of accused priests to protect alleged victims during any investigation, the April guidelines said. The Vatican reiterated today that Catholic bishops must report abuse to the police and investigate every allegation of sexual abuse of a minor by a cleric, the rules say.

Today's changes to those guidelines also include a new rule to consider a minor any "developmentally disabled" individual even if over the age of 18.

Monsignor Charles Scicluna, promoter of justice of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, said in March he would remove the 10-year statute of limitations for priests accused of rape and molestation. As the Vatican's chief prosecutor, he is in charge of punishing clergy accused of delicta graviora, Latin to mean the most serious crimes, which include sexual abuse.

His office has dealt with about 300 cases of alleged pedophilia in the past nine years. Between 2001 and 2009, there were 3,000 accusations of sexual wrongdoing, of which 60 percent are reported to be same-sex attraction while 30 percent are heterosexual, the Vatican has said. The remaining 10 percent are serious claims of abuse of minors. The U.S. accounts for 80 percent of the priests currently facing trial.

© 2010