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Victim advocacy group disappointed by Catholic Church changes on sex abuse

Carol Zamonski of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said the church cannot be trusted to investigate itself.

Carol Zamonski represents the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP.

When she learned the Pope had issued new rules governing reporting of sex abuse, her expectations were low. After reading the church's new guidelines, so is her assessment.

"This is not satisfactory. It's not going to solve the problem. It doesn't indicate to me that there's a will to actually solve the problem. This is just a great PR move," Zamonski said.

Among the changes:

  • Each diocese is to establish systems for the public to confidentially report abuse and cover-up within a year.
  • All clerics and church officials are obligated to report abuse and cover-up, and there can be no retaliation against whistle-blowers.
  • Archbishops or clerics must immediately inform the Vatican of an accusation, and the Vatican has 30 days to respond.

But the rules do not require law enforcement to be involved.

She echoes the concerns of the national SNAP network, which said: "Mandated reporting is a good thing. Yet while this new law will compel priests and nuns to report abuse, it requires them to do so internally, to the very Church structures and offices that have been receiving and routing allegations of abuse for years."

Zamonski said the church cannot be trusted to investigate itself.

"Reporting to an organization that has a vested interest in what happens with that report is not an effective way of reporting a crime. They're not saying, 'if you've been abused by a priest, go to local law enforcement and report it now.' That has never been said. It is not the blanket statement by the Pope and he has the power to do that. And that's the only thing that's appropriate," Zamonski said.

She called the absence of that "extremely disappointing."

"It means to me that they really are not trying to hold people accountable," she said.

Bishop Robert Brennan of the Diocese of Columbus called the Pope's decree "a significant step... in addressing this inherent evil."

Brennan says this document "reinforces practices put in place" in Columbus in 2002 and calls it a "framework to strengthen and focus our efforts to rid our Church of this sinful crime."

When asked if she believes this will bring any change, Zamonski said, "It is something to see that they feel like they need to make a PR move, or make a token. That does show me the power balance is shifting, even if it's just a little."

The Diocese of Columbus also tells 10TV it has always encouraged abuse victims to report the crime "immediately and directly to law enforcement."

Bishop Brennan's complete statement can be read below:

"Today’s release of Pope Francis’s 'Moto Proprio' decree regarding the sexual abuse of minors is a significant step for the Universal Church in addressing this inherent evil. His order provides standards, expectations, and procedures that will assist the Church is addressing this worldwide problem.

Here in the United States, and specifically within the Diocese of Columbus, this document reinforces the practices put in place by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in 2002, with the enactment of the Essential Norms and the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. It affirms our current commitment to offer spiritual care for survivors and their families, to provide full compliance with all civil laws regarding reporting of allegations of sexual abuse to authorities, to uphold the right of any person to report these crimes, to guarantee prompt and objective investigations, and to assure strong lay involvement. Additionally, the decree addresses processes regarding the conduct of bishops and other ranking members of the Church, which, based on recent events, needed immediate attention.

Moving forward, along with my brother Bishops of the USCCB, we will use this decree from our Holy Father as a framework to strengthen and focus our efforts to rid our Church of this sinful crime. In the Diocese of Columbus, I give to you my commitment to continue to work to provide a safe and nurturing environment for all within our community – inspired by Christ and the Joy of his Gospel and consistent with our teachings and traditions, let us all pray and work together to grow a stronger Church."