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Action, not words, needed on clergy sex abuse

At the end of his historic summit on preventing clergy sex abuse, Pope Francis vowed predator priests will be confronted with “the wrath of God.”

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 01/03/2019 (1306 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

At the end of his historic summit on preventing clergy sex abuse, Pope Francis vowed predator priests will be confronted with “the wrath of God.”

The pontiff might have done better to promise the abusers — “ravenous wolves,” he called them — and the hierarchy that has protected them for decades will face earthly justice.

Groups representing abuse survivors were expecting more than law-and-order rhetoric; they were expecting concrete action, and they were sorely disappointed

The Pope’s angry rhetoric suggested the Vatican is finally prepared to take a no-holds-barred approach to ongoing abuse scandals that have caused a crisis of credibility and diminished the Catholic Church’s moral authority.

“If in the church, there should emerge even a single case of abuse — which already in itself represents an atrocity — that case will be faced with the utmost seriousness,” he promised at the end of his summit of bishops from around the world. “Indeed, in people’s justified anger, the church sees the reflection of the wrath of God, betrayed and insulted by these deceitful, consecrated persons.”

Strong words, but groups representing abuse survivors were expecting more than law-and-order rhetoric; they were expecting concrete action, and they were sorely disappointed. “I have been waiting for seven years for all of this to change,” Italian survivor Alessandro Battaglia said. “There are people who have been waiting for 30 years that all this will change. Why don’t they start with something concrete like removing the bishops who cover up?”

Vincenzo Pinto / Pool FILES Pope Francis attends a penitential liturgy at the Vatican on Feb. 23.

U.S. survivor Peter Isely, of the victim advocacy group Ending Clergy Abuse, didn’t hide his anger.

“There is nothing in (the Pope’s) remarks about releasing documents that demonstrate the truth of how they are and have been covering up child sex crimes,” he said. “So what that is, is secrecy. So, if he is against secrecy about coverups, on Monday morning, we would be seeing those archives and criminal evidence released.”

The Pope is to be commended for tackling a decades-long crisis head-on, but what is most clear is that the time for words, regardless of how harsh, regardless of how inspiring, is long gone. Those who have suffered at the hands of predator priests — and seen those crimes covered up by church bureaucrats — deserve concrete action that results in real change here on Earth.

That could mean defrocking clerics — as recently happened with former U.S. cardinal Theodore McCarrick, found guilty of soliciting sex while hearing confession — or criminal prosecutions of abusers and those who cover up their crimes, as well as compensation for abuse victims.

But punishing offenders is one thing, and preventing abuse from occurring is quite another. The need to educate priests and parishioners about the prevalence of abuse is self-evident. And the Vatican would be wise to create a code of conduct for bishops, some of whom have been instrumental in coverups.

Those who have suffered at the hands of predator priests– and seen those crimes covered up by church bureaucrats — deserve concrete action that results in real change here on Earth

Canadian bishops have proposed a possible road map for reformation, suggesting guidelines that include tougher background checks, compassion for victims and abandoning confidentiality clauses in settlements with victims.

Sadly, Canada has a painful history with such crimes — the world’s first widely known cases of sexual abuse of children by clergy took place at the Mount Cashel Boys Home in Newfoundland during the 1980s. And the Pope has been urged to visit this country to apologize for the abuse of Indigenous children at residential schools.

Whatever is done, the changes must be transparent. The famous mysteries of Mother Church can no longer include what steps are being taken to eradicate sexual abuse.

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