Groups representing the victims of paedophile priests have reacted angrily to a Catholic church edict to newly appointed bishops that they are "not necessarily" responsible for reporting allegations of child abuse to the police.
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Child abuse victim cross-examined
Lawyers for George Pell have cross examined David Ridsdale, who alleged Cardinal Pell offered him a bribe to keep quiet about being abused by his uncle, pedophile priest, Gerald Ridsdale. Courtesy Ten News.
The instruction, in a new Vatican training manual advising senior clergy on how to respond to allegations of abuse, states that only victims or their families should decide whether to report to authorities, but bishops should be aware of local legal requirements.
"According to the state of civil laws of each country where reporting is obligatory, it is not necessarily the duty of the bishop to report suspects to authorities, the police or state prosecutors in the moment when they are made aware of crimes or sinful deeds," the training document states.
The training guideline was written by French monsignor Tony Anatrella, a consultant to the Pontifical Council for the Family, and released by the Vatican earlier in February.
John Allen, associate editor of Catholic news site Cruxnow.com, described the approach as a "legalistic take on a critical issue" and criticised the guidelines for not putting more emphasis on prevention of sex abuse within the church.
Pope Francis has called for "zero tolerance" of child sexual abuse within the church, saying "everything possible must be done to rid the church of the scourge of the sexual abuse".
Support groups for survivors of clerical sex abuse say the guidelines would not protect children from sexual abuse.
Nicky Davis, of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, said members of religious institutions should become mandatory reporters, making them legally obliged to inform authorities about suspected abuse.
"Their systems function to protect the interests of the institution," she said. "They don't put the protection of children first.
"They will not change until they are forced to change. There is no question that mandatory reporting laws need to be expanded to include people who work for religious institutions. They have to be forced to put the welfare of children first."
Dr Wayne Chamley, of Broken Rites which advocates for victims of clerical sexual abuse, described the guidelines as "unfathomable".
This is unfathomable and yet it does not surprise me.Dr Wayne Chamley
"This basically instructs the bishop that they don't have to do anything; it's up to the families or the victims to go to the police," he said. "This is unfathomable and yet it does not surprise me."
The Truth, Justice and Healing Council, which handles the Catholic church's engagement with the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, stated Australian bishops have a moral obligation to report abuse.
"While bishops are not obliged at law in Australia to report abuse, they are morally obliged to give as much information as possible to the police to ensure cases of abuse are dealt with in an efficient and timely manner to help ensure the offender is taken out of circulation and to limit the risk of further abuse," Truth, Justice and Healing Council chief executive Francis Sullivan said.
Cardinal George Pell, a former Archbishop of Sydney and Melbourne before he took up a senior position at the Vatican, will give more evidence to the royal commission on February 29.