The Archdiocese of Anchorage is welcoming the new global reforms issued by Pope Francis on how to address sex abuse issues within the Catholic Church.
On May 9 the Vatican issued norms that treat seminarians and religious men and women who are coerced sexually through abusive superiors in the same way as those who are abused as minors or vulnerable adults. The new norms, titled, “You are the Light of the World,” also establishes mandatory reporting for clergy and religious. It requires that all dioceses in the world establish protocols for reporting abuse by June 1, 2020. Dioceses in the United States have already implemented such mechanisms, but the new norms add that the metropolitan archbishop in a specific region will now be in charge of investigations against suffrigan bishops — those bishops in dioceses near the archdiocese.
In Alaska, the archbishop of Anchorage would preside over investigations against the bishops of Fairbanks and Juneau.
“Many have questioned the resolve of Pope Francis to properly respond to the scourge of clergy sex abuse and the cover up that has also been a part of the abuse of power,” states a May 9 press release from the Anchorage Archdiocese. “This document shows that the Holy Father understands the significance and widespread nature of the problem and that he has promulgated church norms which are applicable throughout the world.”
The press release notes that the pope’s new document does not change the 2002 mandate by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,” which requires that all allegations of abuse towards vulnerable persons must first be reported to law enforcement.
“As part of its reporting system, the Archdiocese of Anchorage will continue to encourage anyone who has been harmed, or is aware of harm, to report such incident(s) directly to law enforcement,” the statement from the Anchorage Archdiocese affirms.
The Anchorage Archdiocese statement supports the pope’s mandate for holding “all abusers, no matter what their position in the Catholic Church, accountable for their actions — including bishops and cardinals. While this instruction recognizes and supports the requirement to report incidents to law enforcement, these new norms also give the church clear direction for investigating accusations against bishops.
Further, the norms provide protection from recrimination to whistle blowers, a policy which the Anchorage Archdiocese currently adheres to.
While most elements of the pope’s new norms are already in place in the Anchorage and most other dioceses across the nation many parts of the world do not have extensive mechanisms for reporting abuse.
With the new norms church leaders across the globe are now required to offer spiritual, medical and psychological support to victims and their families, as appropriate. This is the case in Anchorage where the archdiocese maintains a victim’s assistance coordinator whose role is to provide support and advocacy for anyone who reports that someone representing the church has abused them. This coordinator assists with police reports, referrals and advocates for needed services, such as counseling.
The new Vatican norms require all dioceses to establish publicly accessible systems for reporting sexual abuse and other sexual misconduct, as well as for dealing with the mishandling of such misconduct, including cover up. The longstanding policy in Anchorage has been to report any allegations of abuse of a minor or vulnerable person directly to law enforcement. These policies are communicated through training of clergy, staff and volunteers; training of children and families, and published on the archdiocesan website and at the parishes.
According to the Vatican’s new norms, sexual acts carried out through violence or use of intimidation, including offenses against seminarians or novices, are subject to mandatory reporting and investigation. The Anchorage Archdiocese stated that it will “continue to educate its seminarians and others on this reporting requirement.”
Regarding the involvement of lay people in investigations, the new norms encourage this. In Anchorage, the church currently uses third-party professionals as part of investigations. It established an archdiocesan review board in 2004. Members of this board serve for five-year terms and they consist of professionals in law enforcement, mental health, medical providers, educators, lawyers, child advocacy professionals, administrators and others.
The statement by the Anchorage Archdiocese affirmed that it will continue to take abuse accusations seriously as it implements some of the added elements from the new norms into its existing abuse reporting system.
“In essence, no one is above the law,” the statement concludes. “The Archdiocese of Anchorage will continue to implement procedures to comply with church norms and will hold those found guilty of sexual abuse accountable for their actions.”