Seven years after the Vatican ordered all bishops conferences around the world to develop written guidelines to prevent abuse, tend to victims, punish offenders and keep paedophiles out of the priesthood, the headquarters of the Catholic Church has no such policy.
The gap in Francis’s “zero tolerance” for abuse is surprising, given that the Holy See told the UN five years ago it was developing a “safe environment programme” for children inside the 18-hectare Vatican City.
Asked about the promised guidelines, the secretary-general of the Vatican City State administration, Monsignor Fernando Vergez, said he couldn’t respond because "the study and verification of the project are still under way.”
Yes, Francis in 2013 updated Vatican City’s legal code to criminalise sexual violence against children, and just last month the Vatican tribunal convicted a former diplomat of possession and distribution of child pornography.
And one could argue that, beyond the new law, a written policy and safe environment programme is unnecessary in a city state where only a handful of children live full-time.
But thousands of children pass through the Vatican walls every day, touring the Vatican museums, attending papal audiences and masses, and visiting St Peter’s Square and basilica.
And Vatican City authorities wouldn’t have to look far for help in crafting such a policy. The pope’s own Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors - his hand-picked sex abuse advisory board - has a template for such guidelines on its Vatican website.
The absence of clear-cut policy became evident late last year after revelations that a teenage seminarian in the Vatican’s youth seminary had, in 2012, accused one of the older boys of sexually molesting his roommate. Nothing came of it. Vatican police, who have jurisdiction over the territory, weren’t called in to investigate.
A series of bishops - including Cardinal Angelo Comastri, Francis’s vicar for Rome and the archpriest of St Peter’s Basilica - said they investigated, but no one interviewed the victim.
The pupil who lodged the complaint, Kamil Jarzembowski, was promptly kicked out of the seminary, while the accused seminarian was ordained as a priest last year.
The victim has since filed a formal complaint with the Vatican’s criminal tribunal, and Italian church authorities launched a canonical investigation into the newly ordained priest.
Those developments occurred after Italian journalists Gaetano Pecoraro and Gianluigi Nuzzi exposed the scandal last year, prompting the Vatican to reopen the investigation.
In their reports, Jarzembowski’s story - including all the letters he sent to church authorities, Vatican officials and the pope over the years - came to light.
“In those years when I was sending letters, there was never any response,” Jarzembowski said. “I was hurting, because silence can be a real weapon that hurts you when you suffer. You make a denunciation and no one will deal with it.”
Church officials had discounted Jarzembowski’s complaint, claiming he went public with it only because he was bitter at having been kicked out of the seminary. Jarzembowski is indeed bitter - the Polish pupil had to scramble to find a place to live and a new school for his senior year of high school. - AP