Pope issues order to address church sex abuse; advocates say it doesn't go far enough

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Pope Francis has issued a groundbreaking worldwide order to address sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church.

The new church law requires anyone who is aware of abuse or a cover-up of abuse to report it to both church authorities and civil authorities.

Chicago's Cardinal Blase Cupich helped organize a meeting at the Vatican that led to the action. He said the new law validates many of the procedures already in place in the Archdiocese of Chicago and other U.S. Dioceses.

Cupich said the key in the Pope's order is holding everyone in the Church accountable, but advocates for church abuse victims said the new law does not go far enough to include outside involvement.

"We are now having a strict procedure that people are now going to be held accountable - not only for their behavior, but how they handle the cases," Cupich said by phone from Rome.

Cupich said there are also protections for whistleblowers. While the new law encourages reporting abuse and cover-ups to civil authorities, victim's groups and lawyers say the Pope's order does not go far enough to include investigations by lay people.

"It's still surrounded in confidentiality and treating it all very internally," said Marc Pearlman, an attorney who represents dozens of priest abuse victims. He says the new mandate is no different than the sex abuse charter adopted by the U.S. Conference of Bishops in 2002. Based on that, Pearlman does not believe the church can police itself.

"It's difficult to be optimistic when time after time, the response is words, policies and procedures and no action," he said.

Survivor's Network of those Abused by Priests, known as SNAP, is disappointed the Pope's new law does not include penalties for church leaders who enable and cover-up abuse.

"You are removed from your post; if it's egregious, you are defrocked," said Zach Hiner, executive director of SNAP of Illinois. "There needs to be very significant and serious penalties."

Cardinal Cupich said the new law is not the end of the process, but the beginning.
The new global mandate goes into effect June 1st.

Victims' advocates said they will reserve judgement until the Church puts words into action.
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