A meeting of the world’s bishops to talk about abuse? Please, not more talk. Action!
Pope Francis has called the leaders of the world’s episcopal conferences to Rome, to “speak about the prevention of abuse of minors and vulnerable adults.” Great.
The meeting will take place next February—more than five years after the Pope announced his plan to set up a special commission to recommend plans and policies for “the prevention of abuse of minors and vulnerable adults.” So you might ask yourself, what has that commission been doing these five years?
For one thing, the commission has been butting heads with various Vatican officials, trying—and often failing—to gain approval for its recommendations. Commission members have resigned in frustration, complaining about the lack of cooperation from Vatican agencies and episcopal conferences. If he saw the problem as urgent, the Pope, as the Church’s supreme legislator, could require all the world’s episcopal conferences to adopt norms suggested by his commission. Instead, he’s convened a meeting—in five months—to talk about the issue some more.
Or rather, to talk about a part of the issue. The revelations of recent weeks—the Chilean debacle and the McCarrick scandal in particular—have made it impossible to ignore two aspects of the scandal that have not been addressed: the influence of a homosexual network among the clergy, and the complicity of bishops who have failed to address abuse charges. These issues are not even mentioned in the Vatican’s announcement of the February meeting.
To be fair, the papal commission did recommend the creation of a special tribunal that would hold bishops accountable for their negligence in handling abuse charges. In 2015, the Pontiff approved that recommendation and created the tribunal. On paper. But in reality nothing changed—it was all talk, again—and after a year the Pope announced a new policy, rescinding the plan for a tribunal, claiming that existing procedures were adequate for disciplinary action against negligent bishops.
But if those procedures worked, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. The Pope is inviting the world’s bishops to discuss the problem, ignoring the fact that to a large extent the world’s bishops ARE the problem.
Pope Francis has issued several excellent statements on sexual abuse. But his actions haven’t matched his statements. Now he has made an impressive gesture. The summons to all the world’s episcopal conferences is unprecedented; under different circumstances it would convey a sense of urgency. Not now.
So in five months the representatives of the world’s bishops, who have fumbled and compounded this problem for decades, will meet with the Pope, who has been talking about the problem for years. And they’ll talk about it some more. If the meeting sticks to the announced agenda, it will do nothing to resolve the problem, nothing to ease the righteous anger of an outraged Catholic laity.
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