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Pope Creates Tribunal To Investigate Bishops Accused Of Hiding Sex Abuse


We begin this hour with a new development in the handling of sexual abuse cases by the Catholic Church. Pope Francis approved the establishment of a special tribunal. It will judge bishops who failed to take action against priests accused of abusing children. This comes out of a special commission set up by the pope to deal with the abuse problem. NPR's Tom Gjelten has more.

TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: The Catholic Church has been outspoken in its condemnation of priests who sexually abuse children. But priests work under the supervision of bishops, and one criticism of the church is that it hasn't held the bishops accountable for what they've allowed to happen on their watch. In some cases, for example, they have simply moved the abusing priests to a different parish. The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, led by Cardinal Sean O'Malley, the archbishop of Boston, recommended that bishops be disciplined for abusing their powers with regard to problem priests. Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said today those proposals have now been approved.

FATHER FEDERICO LOMBARDI: (Foreign language spoken).

GJELTEN: "The Council of Cardinals agreed on these proposals unanimously," father Lombardi said. The Holy Father approved the proposals and authorized that sufficient resources be provided for this purpose. Bishops who are accused of protecting abusive priests will now be judged by a new judicial section of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a church organization that oversees bishops around the world. Terence McKiernan, co-director of bishopaccountability.org, says until now, Roman Catholic bishops have been reluctant to judge each other, even when bishops have clearly been remiss in handling abusive priests.

TERENCE MCKIERNAN: There really hasn't been a mechanism for dealing with the problem, and that's not an accident. The bishops have not been overly hasty in an examination of their own records.

GJELTEN: In a few cases, bishops who've failed to protect children from an abusive priest have been removed from office. But even in those cases, the Vatican has not acknowledged they were removed because of the abuse that took place under their jurisdiction. McKiernan says the tribunal is therefore a step in the right direction.

MCKIERNAN: I don't think it's any longer going to be possible for bishops to be disciplined and removed on these grounds and for the Vatican to pretend that something else is going on.

GJELTEN: Still, there are some unanswered questions. The proposals approved by the pope today are silent, for example, on the issue of whether the church will be any more likely to refer priests or bishops to law enforcement authorities for criminal prosecution. Tom Gjelten, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Gjelten reports on religion, faith, and belief for NPR News, a beat that encompasses such areas as the changing religious landscape in America, the formation of personal identity, the role of religion in politics, and conflict arising from religious differences. His reporting draws on his many years covering national and international news from posts in Washington and around the world.
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