Once again, the sex abuse scandals are proving to be one of the more pressing problems for Pope Francis, as the pontiff is scheduled to address the World Meeting of Families in Dublin, Ireland this weekend, amid new revelations in the United States of decades of misconduct by the Catholic Church.
Less than three months after the 34 Chilean bishops were forced to submit their resignations by Francis himself in an unprecedented move, due to claims of child abuse and cover-ups, last week a Pennsylvania grand jury released a report detailing the extent of the same crime allegations by Catholic priests in six of the state’s eight dioceses.
The report estimated more than 300 priests across Pennsylvania abused at least 1,000 known victims over 70 years and it condemned the wider clerical culture that allowed senior priests to turn a blind eye to the abuses, often quietly shuffling offending priests into new parishes, where they would have unfettered access to new victims following a pattern of behaviour observed from Boston to Mexico and Australia.
The two-year grand jury investigation, which involved the subpoenaing of half-million pages of reports of dioceses and churches, implicated a number of church high officials in the cover-up, including Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington, DC.
Many of the priests are retired or even dead, while others attempted to stop the release of the panel’s findings, which led to the report being partially redacted.
In addition, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick was suspended last month over claims he abused adult seminary students and an altar boy during the 80s when he was Archbishop of Newark, New Jersey.
The also retired Archbishop of the U.S. capital (2001-2006) is paradoxically considered one of Francis’ trusted advisers on stopping sex abuse.
Pope Francis issued a letter to Catholics around the world on Monday, condemning the “crime” of sexual abuse and demanding accountability.
In the three-page letter, which was issued in seven languages, Francis stressed “we showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them” and he wrote, looking to the future, “no effort must be spared to create a culture able to prevent such situations from happening, but also to prevent the possibility of their being covered up and perpetuated.”
Previously, the Vatican called the content of the US allegations “criminal and morally reprehensible,” adding, “those acts were betrayals of trust that robbed survivors of their dignity and their faith.”
No concrete measures
However, Francis did not provide any indication of what concrete measures he is prepared to take to sanction those bishops—in the US and beyond—who covered up for abusive priests.
Furthermore, critics say, this latest report comes some 30 years after the initial wave of child sex abuse allegations in the Boston area rocked the Catholic Church in the United States.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops presented in 2002 the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, more commonly known as the Dallas Charter.
Under its terms, church leaders are mandated to report instances of abuse to law enforcement, rather than handle the abuse among the clergy.
Yet the Argentinian pontiff several years ago scrapped a proposed tribunal to prosecute negligent bishops, and he has refused to act on credible information from around the world of senior leaders, including former head of Mexican church, Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, who have failed to report criminals to police or otherwise botched handling cases, and yet remain in office.
In response to the Pennsylvania grand jury findings, more than 140 theologians, education, and lay leaders have called for all US bishops to submit their resignations, as a public act of penance and a “willing abdication of earthly status,” the National Catholic Reporter highlighted.
Acknowledging that some bishops are “humble servants and well-intentioned pastors”, their statement posted in English and Spanish on the Daily Theology blog still urged a collective resignation by all bishops because of the “systemic nature of this evil.”
So far, Pope Francis has accepted five of the Chilean bishops’ resignations.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests also issued a statement, urging survivor and supporters to demand that every U.S. state’s attorney general launch investigations similar to those in Pennsylvania.
For its part, Kathleen McChesney, a former FBI executive and the first director of the US Bishops’ Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection, said she would have preferred to see more concrete actions, though she appreciates that the pope acknowledged that efforts to implement those measures have been delayed.
As we wrote on the EL UNIVERSAL in English Op-Ed Contributors column early this year following the landslide victory of the “yes” camp in the Irish abortion referendum, “all eyes will be set on Francis’ visit to Dublin to attend the World Meeting of Families” this weekend with the presence of 15,000 pilgrims from 116 countries, including 6,000 registered children under 18 years old.
Vatican spokesperson Greg Burke said the pontiff is likely to meet privately with abuse victims and added that Francis will pray in silence for victims at St. Mary Cathedral in Dublin on Saturday.
The Vatican strategists, we noted previously in this column, “could not expect more bad news, in the context of an increasingly irrelevant church plagued by self-inflicted scandals and an inability to keep up with and reach contemporary Catholics.”