Church abuse crisis

Swiss priest calls on Pope to establish independent clergy abuse tribunals

A Swiss priest is calling on Pope Francis to do away with the “unhealthy” and “unfair” internal processes with which the Church handles sex abuse complaints and to establish truly “independent” tribunals in which to handle these crimes.

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Father Nicholas Betticher, parish priest in Bern and head of the Swiss interdiocesan marriage tribunal in Fribourg, lamented in an interview that the way the Church currently investigates sex abuse complaints – on both a local and a Vatican level – is simply “not credible”.

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According to new Church laws established by Pope Francis in May, bishops and superiors of religious orders are required to report cases of abuse both to the civil authorities and to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome.

However, “the bishop is the employer who hires the priest, the chief judge who judges the guilty and the spiritual father who protects the victims”, Betticher has noted, dooming the system from the outset.

Not only that, but one office in Rome is required to handle all the clergy sex abuse complaints in the entire world.

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“How can one Roman office act for the entire planet? It is not feasible”, said the Betticher, a doctor in theology and canon law and former spokesman of the Swiss Bishops’ Conference.

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Instead of the current inefficient and biased system, Betticher suggested that national Bishops’ Conferences around the world could establish separate courts made up not only of experts in Church law but also of lay people.

Lawyers, psychiatrists and other medical experts, men and women, who would have the power to pass sentence on abusive priests, a faculty currently reserved only to ordained men.

The new tribunal, explained Betticher, would decide which ecclesiastical sanctions to adopt against priests guilty of abuse, such as suspension, dismissal, therapy, and so on.

“The rest is done by the State, which knows how to do it better than us,” said the expert.

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“It would be something completely new, of course”, said Betticher of his proposal.

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“The Pope could immediately establish similar tribunals, which would release the bishops, for whom it is often difficult to judge and denounce priests whom they know well, who they have ordained and entrusted parishes”, explained the priest.

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