…is in the eating, as the proverb goes. With regard to the recent Vatican meeting dealing with the failures of church leadership to address clerical abuse of minors properly, I’ve had time over the past two weeks (since the meeting ended) to look for actions that might back up the fine words at the meeting. Here’s what I’ve seen:
- New laws and procedures will soon be published for dealing with crimes against minors taking place in areas under Vatican jurisdiction (the city-state itself, and diplomatic postings) that will bring these into conformity with standard secular law;
- A handbook for bishops is in preparation by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that will instruct bishops on how they are to deal with allegations, and of the penalties for noncompliance;
- As I mentioned last week, the U.S. Bishops’ Conference seems poised to take concrete action on the accountability of bishops at its meeting this coming June;
- An influential group largely made up of lay leaders in the U.S., the Leadership Roundtable, has come up with a report and recommendations that may well have significant influence;
- On a wider scale, commentators on the church worldwide seem largely in agreement that the leaders of the bishops’ conferences in parts of the world that, before the conference, were not convinced that they had a problem with clergy sexual abuse now seem convinced that they do; and they sound, from comments, determined to raise awareness and to institute protective measures;
- Finally, religious sisters are getting a hearing about the abuse some of their members have suffered from clergy. (The address to the Vatican gathering by Nigerian S. Veronica Openibo seems to have opened that door wide.)
Is this a fully-satisfactory outcome from the Vatican meeting? In my opinion, no. But it’s not nothing, and the middle-term and long-term results will demonstrate whether or not the Vatican meeting can be considered, on balance, a success. It may be that it will have more of an impact on churches in places where, until that meeting, there seemed little awareness of or interest in clergy abuse. The leaders of those churches have clearly had their eyes opened, and so may now start to act.
In the U.S., where the bishops seem finally to be getting a grip on the situation, it may have less impact because the U.S. church leadership is already ahead of the curve on awareness and already has some good policies in place. (I don’t doubt that there’s much more to be done, but the trend is positive, if slow.)
What does this mean for U.S. Catholics? First, it seems to me that it’s time to stop the fighting about whether the issue is “clericalism” or a “homosexual cabal.” Practical measures that work should be the focus, as well as restorative justice to victims (and to any clergy wrongly accused).
Second, this can serve as a reminder that a focus on the U.S. Church, however sensible it seems to us, is shortsighted from the perspective of the Holy Father; he has to guide and lead the church worldwide, and should be offered the presumption that he understands things that we don’t. (That we understand local things that he doesn’t is also a useful presumption, of course.)
Finally, we need to remember that church leadership, while important, is not central to the business of our discipleship. Especially during Lent, we need not to be distracted from the main Holy Work. I’ll return to writing about that next week. Until then, peace.
- You can read it here: https://leadershiproundtable.org/wpcontent/uploads/2019/03/CatholicPartnershipSummit_SummitReport_Final.pdf
- You can read her address to the gathering here: