Several times in my blog, I have commented, respectfully and positively, about the long delayed but gradually improving Church’s response to the sexual scandal of the last 10 to 15 years. Back in February, there was an important meeting in Rome on the subject and one of the speakers was Monsignor Charles Scicluna. Monsignor Scicluna is important because he is the Promoter of Justice in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the man responsible for dealing with these tragic abuse cases. In his speech to the symposium, he compared the “ecclesiastical cover up” with the Mafia bosses who enforce secrecy of their own criminal actions. He pointed out that the failure of the Church to ensure justice for the victims is no less a scandal than the abuse itself.
“It was a crime in canon law to show malicious or fraudulent negligence in the exercise of one’s duty,” Msgr. Scicluna said, indicating that bishops could be deposed from their sees for falling down in their duty in this respect.
Writing in the February 11th issue of the London Tablet (in my opinion, the most thoughtful Catholic publication in the English language), Robert Mickens states that, “Unfortunately the event has revealed a dark side. And that is the sad fact that there are still powerful men in the Roman Curia and the hierarchy who continue to downplay the seriousness of clergy sexual abuse. This is reflected by the fact that the symposium was not “sponsored” by the Holy See and took place more than a mile away on the other side of the Tiber.”
Onward through the fog.
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I was very much encouraged by the fact that a symposium for bishops and superiors of religious communities was held last month in the Vatican. The subject was sex abuse entitled, “Towards Healing and Renewal.” I am aware of the fact that there have been many such meetings, locally and regionally, but this is the first time that the Vatican took responsibility for a first-class, worldwide review based on hard data, serious research and accurate scientific knowledge. The tragedy is that it has taken more than 20 years to get around to it. Twenty years! Can you imagine that?
The abuse scandal has been an unbelievable disaster for the Church at the end of the 20th century. The sexual abuse aspect of it is disgusting, destructive and humiliating. An even bigger problem was the almost universal failure of Church leaders to properly respond and to respond in a timely manner. Twenty years is a long time to wait to mount a realistic and effective response.
This agonizing debacle is, of course, the direct response of sinful and usually sick failed priests who brought disaster on parishes and schools all over the world. However, the biggest source of making the problem infinitely worse than it had to be was the failure of leadership, a failure of the bishops, a failure of the Vatican.
Let’s prayerfully hope that this Vatican Symposium is a reflection that the people at the top have finally gotten the message. We will be observing a follow-up over the next few weeks and months. Together let’s pray for real and measurable success.
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The scandal had been around for sometime but it was in 2002, ten years ago, when it exploded in the Archdiocese of Boston and Cardinal Bernard Law had to resign his See and accept an assignment in Rome to flee from the bitter criticism that fell upon him because of his failure to effectively deal with corrupt priests. Then came Dallas in 2002 and the bishops, under the glare of television cameras, drafted a policy and a set of directives that everyone hoped would put the agony of the sexual scandal behind us, a scandal that most objective observers believe is the worst evil to befall the Church in several centuries. Would it be over? Regretfully it was not!
In the spring of this year, a grand jury criticized the Review Board of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for not recommending the suspension of several priests charging that the results of the board’s work were often worse than had there been no decision at all. Was the Review Board really at fault? Not at all. Ann Marie Catanzaro, Chair of the Review Board, fired back with the response that the Archdiocese had failed to give them information on 21 cases and she went on to say, “Cardinal Rigali and his auxiliary bishops failed miserably at being open and transparent. Their calculated public statements fueled the speculation that they had something to hide.”
We are still having cover-ups in one of the most important dioceses in the country ten years after Dallas. This whole scandal has been a terrible tragedy for the Church but it has been made far worse by the failures of certain bishops.
As the Chair of the Review Board said subsequently, and no one can argue with this statement, “The solution to the sexual abuse scandal rests on being honest, acting promptly and transparently, being open to constructive criticism, and being committed to protecting minors. If Philadelphia bishops had authentically followed their call to live the Gospel, they would have acted differently. Instead, they succumbed to a culture of clericalism.”
I pray with all my heart that this mistake will end the agonizing experience. Onward through the fog.
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I am very happy to see that our beloved Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI seems to be moving forcefully to confront some of the scandals that have beset the Church in many parts of the world. I am, of course, referring primarily to the sexual abuse crisis. On his way to Portugal, Benedict XVI said that, “the suffering of the Church also comes from within the Church because sin exists in the Church…today we see it in a truly dramatic manner that the greatest persecution of the Church does not come from enemies on the outside but is born in sin within the Church.” Let’s hope that the high ecclesiastics who have tried to blame the media (or real, or imagined enemies) for a problem that was our own making are listening now.
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