The Catholic Church in Switzerland will in future report all suspected cases of sexual abuse, regardless of whether the victim presses charges. The new measure comes in response to a growing scandal that is damaging its reputation.
The Swiss Bishop’s Conference took the decision on Wednesday to allow police to more effectively investigate allegations and to reduce the risk of cover-ups in future. The ruling obliges Church officials to report all suspicions rather than rely on victims to come forward.
While not confined to Switzerland, the issue of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church has produced a significant number of negative headlines. Since 2010, some 300 victims have come forward to report assaults in Switzerland, often carried out by priests.
In 2017 alone 65 new reports emerged, which was an increased rate on previous years. Many of the offences took place when the victims were children or adolescents. Given the time elapsed in reporting the offences, many may have passed the statute of limitations and may therefore be impossible to prosecute.
However, Bishop Felix Gmür, vice-president of the Conference, said this should not deter people from coming forward. “We want to know what happened,” he said at a media conference on Wednesday. Victims who are denied the opportunity of prosecuting their case could still apply for compensation from a special fund set up by the Church.
Earlier this month it was reported that the Swiss Bishop’s Conference, the Church’s highest body in Switzerland, plans to introduce sexual education courses for Church representatives.