News reports show impotence of papal sex-abuse commission

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Feb 28, 2017

Talk about burying the lede! Credit the indispensable Terry Mattingly with noticing that in yesterday’s story about the Pope’s willingness to ease penalties on pedophile priests, AP put the most remarkable information in the last paragraph. So the biggest news was trimmed out of the story by most of the media outlets that carried it (including, sad to say, the story to which CWN linked in our News Brief).

That stunning paragraph focuses on the Pope’s special commission on sexual abuse, the initiatives that it has taken, and the net results:

Francis scrapped the commission’s proposed tribunal for bishops who botch abuse cases following legal objections from the congregation. The commission’s other major initiative — a guideline template to help dioceses develop policies to fight abuse and safeguard children — is gathering dust. The Vatican never sent the template to bishops’ conferences, as the commission had sought, or even linked it to its main abuse-resource website.

We already knew that the papal commission was languishing, because of a lack of funding, shortage of staff, and failure to hold regular meetings. But this news—inexplicably buried in the AP report—is far more damaging. The commission has launched two important projects, and neither has been implemented.

Negligent bishops still aren’t held accountable. That’s appalling. But any recommendation for disciplining bishops was bound to face stiff opposition. However, when you learn that the papal commission hasn’t managed to get its own recommendations posted on its own web site, you have a full, accurate, and extremely disturbing picture of this commission’s clout—and thus of the commitment to fight sexual abuse during this pontificate.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: feedback - Mar. 01, 2017 8:55 AM ET USA

    Even more troubling is the fact that many Bishops continue on to ordain homosexuals to Catholic priesthood. Over 90% of sexual abuse of minors have been homosexual in nature and, besides moral destruction of young souls, the Church in US alone lost $4 billion in lawsuits.

  • Posted by: dfp3234574 - Feb. 28, 2017 7:01 PM ET USA

    "No one would hold a brain surgeon to today's standard of care for professional decisions he made in 1970. Yet the decisions made in 1970 by Catholic bishops, who routinely consulted with mental health professionals about sick priests, are being judged by today's standards. Today, the confidence of the mental health community about the likelihood of curing sexual disorders is far less than it was in 1970." - L. Martin Nussbaum ... And that is how I feel about "holding bishops accountable."

  • Posted by: ElizabethD - Feb. 28, 2017 11:13 AM ET USA

    Were the committee's recommendations for diocesan abuse guidelines actually suitable? Without seeing them it's hard to say whether it is good or bad that they aren't being disseminated. To me these pieces of news partly suggest that relegating this to a marginal committee rather than hashing it out in the major Congregations where there were more knowledgeable people, may not have been the wisest or most useful thing to do.