Vatican issues guide for investigating priests accused of abuse 

by Christopher Lamb

Cardinal Luis Ladaria, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
CNS photo/Paul Haring

The Vatican has issued a detailed guide for how Church leaders should handle allegations of abuse by clergy against children.

The handbook, a Vademecum, sets out how bishops and religious superiors should investigate abuse, including the obligation to report allegations to civic authorities.  

Although the instruction manual effectively summarises existing laws, it is the first time the Vatican has published how the internal Church process for investigating and prosecuting abuse cases works. This tool was proposed by the landmark abuse summit which took place in the Vatican on 21-24 February 2019, in the latest attempt to forge a unified Church response to the abuse crisis.  

“The course of justice cannot alone exhaust the church’s response, but it is necessary in order to come to the truth of the facts,” Cardinal Luis Ladaria, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the department which produced the Vademecum, explained. 

The handbook says that allegations of abuse do not have to be a formal complaint but can come through anonymous sources, a third party or social media. Bishops and superiors are urged not to simply dismiss allegations even if they appear doubtful.

“At times, a notitia de delicto (information about an offence) can derive from an anonymous source, namely, from unidentified or unidentifiable persons,” the manual explains.  

“The anonymity of the source should not automatically lead to considering the report as false.  Nonetheless, for easily understandable reasons, great caution should be exercised in considering this type of notitia, and anonymous reports certainly should not be encouraged.”
Church leaders, the guidebook stresses, are obliged to refer allegations to the relevant state authorities, and onto Rome where they will be investigated by the doctrine congregation. 

“Even in cases where there is no explicit legal obligation to do so, the ecclesiastical authorities should make a report to the competent civil authorities if this is considered necessary to protect the person involved or other minors from the danger of further criminal acts,” the guide explains. 

The Vademecum also explains about allegations being made during confession, saying the priest “should seek to convince the penitent to make that information known by other means, in order to enable the appropriate authorities to take action.”
In Australia, a new law will force priests to break the confidentiality – or seal – of confession and to report any abuse revealed in the confessional, and a public inquiry in England and Wales is examining this issue. 

The handbook looks at how to make an initial judgment about the veracity of allegations. It explains that an allegation must lack “the semblance of truth” before it is investigated, which would include “if it is a well-known fact that the person accused could not have been present at the place of the delict when the alleged actions took place.” 

At the same time, “it is advisable that the Ordinary or Hierarch communicate to the CDF the notitia de delicto and the decision made to forego the preliminary investigation due to the manifest lack of the semblance of truth.”

During a preliminary investigation, the guide explains, “the important thing is to reconstruct, to the extent possible, the facts on which the accusation is based, the number and time of the criminal acts, the circumstances in which they took place and general details about the alleged victims, together with a preliminary evaluation of the eventual physical, psychological and moral harm inflicted”. 

Since the February abuse summit, which brought together the presidents of bishops conferences from across the world, the Pope and the Holy See have issued a series of anti-abuse measures in an attempt to tackle the global sexual abuse crisis. These include changes to laws over the pontifical secret, new norms for the reporting of abuse and ensuring bishops are held accountable, and new anti-abuse laws for the Vatican City State.


This is what the Vatican says on paper.

I wonder will it all really happen in practice?

The civil authorities in all countries should make it legally binding that those who do not report reported to them be prosecuted.

I notice that they also say that even anonymous reports submitted on social media should also be investigated.

Is there a danger that in these cases people will maliciously make false reports about priests they dont like?

The investigating authorities will need to proceed cautiously with anonymous social media complaints.


There is an Irishman in Rome. To my knowledge there is only one person who never liked him…..went to the French College as a result …..A French Bishop was a friend of mine…..twice I dined with the senior members of the French Church….Imagine !!!…..From them I knew of this mans profile among them. Notre Dame was spectacular for his ordination as a Bishop,1997 I think …I was there….and not down at the door as the Biblical invitation( NT) would encourage.
Benedict personally offered this man an Irish diocese ( I know that from Roman circles, not his circles), he declined. Sodano greatly admires him….he is not a Brad Pitt….so he was not lifted to that level by Sodano….who has very good taste…. ( and legal not like what comes from the sun).
I remember him as a student in Maynooth and Rome, I have followed his life closely: He has three attributes that are rare and one that makes him entirely eligible;
He is extremely intelligent and generous with this gift…..always helped anyone as a student…whether that was with understanding or translation.
He is extremely kind.
He has no ambition for himself….none.
He is Orthodox in his Roman Catholic Theology.
He is a very good man, integrity dripping from his every pore ( maybe a minus for some of the decision makers).
He would be the one to put the scaffolding on the decrepit structure of the Irish Church….for it will be a long time before there is energy among the builders to begin with the bricks……


Translation: he is talking about Mgr Joseph Murphy, diocese of Cloyne, former private secretary to Cardinal Sodano when the cardinal was Secretary of State. Joe is now Head of Protocol in the Vatican.


Ah, so many of the monitors of that era are Missing in Action, eg Pearse Cormack, Paddy McPhilips and Billeen.


What bemuses me about this new directive is that it has not already been done years before ? It is not as if the Church and the Vatican has not known for decades about the sinful scandal in its clergy ranks, and one would have expected prompt and decisive action years ago. However, instead we have had foot dragging, delay, coverup, attempt to deflect blame – anything but prompt and decisive action. Ladaria, his predecessors, Popes, – they should all be ashamed of themselves that they have come so late to this. My own view is that secular State authorities should forget the constraints imposed by so called freedom of religion, and should enforce the application of State laws in this area. If the Church and its clergy don’t respect the State law, then they should pay the price


9.09, the Vatican is where it is on this issue through public naming and shaming as the protectors, and facilitators of active and serial paedophiles/ephebophiles.

The naming and shaming was necessary because Roman Catholic clergy are devoid of conscience and worship only their institution.

Priesthood was NEVER envisaged by Jesus; hence the downright evil that has sprung from it historically.


Paragraph 12: “….an allegation must lack the semblance of truth before it is investigated.”
????? Confusing?


Presumably all allegations are to be accepted at a prima facie level without the need to be investigated. Incredible!


Even + Nichols came late to realise the grave damage that abuse does to victims. Or so he says. I reckon he’s still concerned with the Church and its reputation. I don’t believe a Scouse word that comes from his mouth – on this or any other matter. Neither do most of his clergy.


Oh dear, if social media stuff needs to be investigated, than Littletwat might find himself the subject of some questioning…..possibly….just saying….??!! I mean, maniples and birettas are one thing, but where does it end….? There could be scandal lurking behind that fey, wimpy, traditionalist front…..??


Yes @ 9:25: me too; conspicuosly absent; not present. Ah, but sure it’s neither here nor there, if you know what I mean!


Do you mean 09:13, Your Grace + Wilson ? The sooner you sort out the Littletwat the better. Ball is in your court. Send him off for higher studies / MIA or something. Just stop inflicting him and his shrill squeal and prancing ways on us. Please !


8:57 I hope +Wilson do the same with Higgins as well. And has the balls to get rid of a few likeminded seminarians that will cause scandals if they ever get ordained.


I’m still in bed and I’m thinking will I have scrambled egg on toast or will I boil the eggs. Decisions decisions !


10.24, now I understand all other references to food in this thread in a quite literal sense, but yours sounds suspiciously like a double entendre.
Shame on you if it is. 😕


Amy is afraid of the little hitler Gates in Magherafelt. Still suffers from small man syndrome and still upsetting people. Wants Amy to make him a Canon – how desperate is that.


What a horrible person. He was Secretary to Archbishop Daley and dumped a load of his fellow clergy into bad parishes


Gates, is he still causing trouble? His name was toxic in Maynooth. He made the Sacristans life hell


Gates is a disgrace. Tried to bury my Mother in a grave that had two people already buried.


By ‘bad parishes’ 4.51 we take it you mean those that weren’t generous to their clergy with their cash.


@ 9:09 am

Exactly. This issue is in the public domain over 35 years. With all the resources at the disposal of the Vatican, in terms of knowledge of the issue, finance, expertise available, they come up with a handbook. As + Pat says, its on paper. What will happen in practice and how applicable will its content be in various legal jurisdictions?
Following up anonymous allegations seems unworkable to me, leading to endless wild goose chases.

The reality is bishops don’t want to know, more than likely following orders from Rome. Protecting money seems top priority.


That the process relating to Canon Brown took more than two years was a very grave injustice to him and a deprivation to those who would have benefited from his ministry over that period.


Pat, there is always a victim here: either the accused, or the accuser.
From experience, I know that a case that cannot be proved is not necessarily an incident that did not occur.
I do not know which person is the victim here, but God does know. So I pray for the victim, knowing that God knows his or her identity and that he will grace him or her accordingly.


And there is the seminarian at W@n(k)ersh in his 3d or 4th year that was a gay porn actor before he became a seminarian. Watch out, he will be in a parish this year on “pastoral placement”.


Yes, it does indeed. Sound very interesting.

By chance, have you his private number. For sociological research. I’m a disinterested but sociable social scientist.

Thanking you in anticipation.


I know the Church thinks in centuries, but why has it taken them so long to produce even a milk-and-water set of rules. Proper rules and procedures should have been in place decades ago.


Abuse is generic in origin and not the sole property of the church. One could be forgiven for thinking it might be. The temple and old Rome. The Church and the State. This is one where State must take the lead and Church follow its job description as Ministers of the Gospel (hi)


I don’t have much time for “We Are Church, Ireland”, a small, unrepresentative moanathon for quasi-Catholics of the retired teacher/women with sensible shoes class. However, they make an interesting call for the publication of the quinquennial reviews of each diocese, sent to the Holy See by every bishop in advance of the Ad limina visit. They provide an example from a Canadian diocese, which makes for interesting reading.


Oh, hold the show! You’re a priest, aren’t you? Hence the charity in your post.
As for the group’s being a ‘moanathon’, I’d bet that you’ve done plenty of moaning in your time, Father, especially during lockdown and your drop in revenue.
If its members are ‘quasi-Cathoilics of the retired teacher/women (what have you against teachers and women?) with sensible shoes, then you must be on pretty intimate terms with them. Did they know you were going to betray them in this way?
They should have done, if they knew you were a priest.


The Australian state of Victoria is on course to require of priests the disclosure of confessional claims of child abuse.

I hope it doesn’t lose its nerve. It will require great courage on the part of state legislators there to face down the protests of Catholic clergy, who naturally have no interest in protecting vulnerable children.

The sooner some of these paefophile/ephebophile protectors spend time in jail and in public disgrace the sooner will get home to them the very clear message that priests’ centuries-long protection of paedophiles/ephebophiles will not be tolerated.

Blogg readers who pray should intercede for these legislstors that God may enhance their natural fortitude.


You can’t make care about the welfare of children people who traditionally never did, and the Catholic Church and its priests never did.
This is PR by the Vatican, absolutely meaningless, except to dupe a gullible laity (and boy! are Cathoilc laity gullible?) into believing that the clergy have def got it this time!
Whenever you see a priest, the default position for any SENSIBLE person ought to be: Oh! Paedophile/ephebophile, or a protector of them.


This is just words on a paper. Nothing will change. A paper written by church leaders to protect church leaders.

What if the abuser is higher up in the hierarchy than the victim? We’re told to report abuse to our bishops, religious superiors, seminary rectors etc. But they’ll blame the victim instead.
A seminarian reporting about abuse to his rector, vocation director or bishop will most likely be seen as a problem maker and thrown out.
A parishoner reporting about abuse will most likely be outed in public as being in love with the abuser (“A priest is only human with human lust and fell for the flirting parishoner”).
A priest reporting about abuse will most likely be removed from his parish or even sent away ” to pray and reflect” while the abuser goes free.
Nothing will change. It’s just a paper. The bad culture will remain.


Vatican can’t be trusted on this as they unable to regulate themselves especially on abuses. It’s only a guide not compulsory. I can’t trust the vatican as regards to their mealy mouthed words and marie Collins who left. A lot of questions to be answered. Quite simply, the vatican cannot be trusted on this.. Look at spotlight movie, look at mea maxima culpa et al. Catholic Church is a wolf in sheep clothing when it comes to access to kids. They don’t care by moving abuser priests around, is that still ongoing?? That showed their mindset when it comes to self preservation and protection of their institution at the expense of kids.


Spot on. It is guidance, not canonical law.

It will be applied/ignored according to episcopal taste. But don’t worry: the good priests will risk everything, even their incomes and homes, to ensure nothing short of its universal, and mandatory, application.


4.54: Where has hatred or vengeance ever got us? Nowhere, except to perpetuate a false narrative about “all” priests – the lie continues in such commentary.


So let’s forget it ever happened, eh? The rapes, vaginal and anal, by sexually predatory priests and religious. Their deliberate, calculated, systemic, self-interested concealment by popes and bishops, and the criminal endangering of other children in the process.The desruction of innocent young bodies and minds. The erosion of their trust in the Church and in God. Their suicidal ideation, and their suicides.

Yes, let us forget, just as we forget the two world wars of last century. Just as we forget the Holocaust, in which six million Jews were murdered on an industrial scale, along with homosexuals, gypsies, political dissedents, etc. Except we don’t forget these monumental atrocities, because it would be a colossal sacrilege to the memory of those who perished. And we do it to remind ourselves of the wisdom that those who ignore the lessons of history are destined to repeat them.

Every country which has ever had the grave misfortune to host an abusing Christian presence, including that of the Catholic Church, should erect a national monument to the innocents who suffered and who died, the sacrificial lambs of a perversion so perverse that its commemoration in stone or metal would remind the world never again to allow the name of Christ to be franchished, and corrupted, by religion.

Lest we forget. Eh, Father?


Well, its never got Patricia McKeever of CTS anywhere and she is always “crying out to heaven for vengeance” on homosexuals. And here Bp Pat cavorting with her too.


The Irish Government should issue a compulsory purchase order, acquire it at far less than its market value, and turn it into a national memorial centre for children abused by priests who studied there, and abused again by bishops who sidelined this criminal violence against them by overstepping their authority and ordering the silence of these children.

The campus is arrestingly beautiful. It would serve as perfectly symbolic of a church that presented to the world the Dorianesque binary of serene and authoritative holiness, while hiding a heart hideously corrupted with evil.


much of the north campus is rented by Maynooth University, but they are undertaking an expansion of their own facilities, which will impact the Pontifical University as it will be without tenants in the near future and a source of revenue generated from rent.


Maybe the NUI could erect, in a prominent part of its newly acquired territory, a memorial to these children. Or is secular Ireland still tipping its cap to the Catholic Church in Ireland?

Ireland is the epicentre of child abuse worldwide. Had children been treated in this way by others, there would be a global campaign to have such atrocity memorialised as a warning to future generations.

Doesn’t secular Ireland care about its abused children, now becoming forgotten? I know the Catholic Church doesn’t give two hoots about them.

It is cause for national shame that these children are becoming forgotten. Doesn’t secular Ireland know that this is precisely what the Catholic Church wants? These children obliterated from national consciousness, and itself rehabilitated as a moral authority?


It’s great to see your righteous indignation at the abuse of children.

Will you continue in the same vein to be indignant at the other 95+% of children who are the victims of abuse by non-clerics or non-religious?


11.48, your first sentence is self-defensive sarcasm, and it is telling. You are not bothered, in the least, that children were raped by men who claimed to be God’s representatives, and that other such men covered up for them, including popes, protected them, and enabled further sexual crimes against children.

In fact, you are so blasé about it, you try to divert attention from this moral outrage

But then, you’re a priest, aren’t you?


I see that a woman who taught generations of the catholic children in your patch of Larne has passed away aged 92.
Many in the town will have fond memories of Winnie Houston. RIP

Willie Campbell


Yes. RIP. She was a beloved legend. She was in her 50s and still teaching when I came to Larne.


Ps my prayers and condolences to the woman who has passed and to her family.
May she rest in peace and shine with Christ and His saints x


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