A meeting of the world’s bishops to talk about abuse? Please, not more talk. Action!

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Sep 12, 2018

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.

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 CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: [email protected] - Sep. 14, 2018 11:34 PM ET USA

    Talk! Talk! Talk! That is all we will hear. The good Cardinals, Bishops, Priests and lay organizations need to help clean house here at home by pressuring the highly secularized types to change or leave-resign. Start small like a pebble in a lake and watch it expand. Start with Wuerl,Tobin, and Cupich. Lots of prayers along the way.

  • Posted by: bill129 - Sep. 14, 2018 4:55 PM ET USA

    The problem is with much more than abuse of minors and vulnerable adults. What about abuse of seminarians and other adults through misuse of the priestly or episcopal office. Like Phil said, this meeting is nothing but a repeat. We know that the problem is more that child abuse. Is this conference another dodge by the Vatican to appear like they are doing something and avoid the issues that are really corrupting the Church and bold witness of the Gospel.

  • Posted by: Frodo1945 - Sep. 13, 2018 11:57 AM ET USA

    "Wait it out and hope it will blow over" is the strategy and it will fail.

  • Posted by: KC627 - Sep. 12, 2018 1:11 PM ET USA

    So it takes 5 months to to begin discussions on the prevention of abuse of minors and vulnerable adults? This is the best the Council of Cardinals can come up with after "reflection" on the abuse problem? I guess Cardinal Cupich was correct when he said there are more pressing issues than the abuse problem that is presently devastating the Church. I hope and pray that Cardinal DiNardo's visit with Pope Francis tomorrow is more successful.