Vatican abuse summit leaves victims angry
Clerical sex abuse survivors expressed disappointment this week after Pope Francis called for “all-out battle” against abusers in the Roman Catholic Church—but failed to offer any concrete measures to root out predator priests. At a Vatican summit to address the crisis of pedophilia within the clergy, victims from around the world told the 190 assembled bishops and religious superiors of the pain caused both by their abuse and the church’s indifference to their suffering. Priests should be “physicians of the soul,” Chilean survivor Juan Carlos Cruz said in testimony, yet many became “murderers of the soul.” Francis called abusive priests “tools of Satan,” and insisted that the church would “do all that is necessary” to bring pedophile clerics to justice.
But the pope did not use his authority to institute the zero-tolerance policy sought by many Catholics, under which priests found guilty of child abuse—and bishops who cover for them—would automatically be removed from ministry. Francis said the church should avoid a rush toward summary justice, “provoked by guilt for past errors and media pressure,” and asked bishops to police abuse at the local level. Victims and activists expressed anger at the strategy. Francis “absolutely doesn’t get it,” said Anne Barrett-Doyle, co-founder of the U.S.-based advocacy group Bishop Accountability. “This is a catastrophic misreading of the faithful.”
What the columnists said
What “a disgraceful display of excuses and evasions,” said Marc Thiessen in The Washington Post. Instead of assuming responsibility and telling us “who knew what, and when,” Francis quoted studies on how most child abuse occurs within families. He then bashed critics for wanting bishops who cover up crimes to be held to account, saying the church must “rise above” those who “exploit” children’s suffering for their own agenda. “Sorry, Holy Father, that’s not good enough.”
Give Francis some credit, said Michael Sean Winters in the National Catholic Reporter. The fact that he organized a Vatican summit dedicated to abuse—the first of its kind—after decades of denial by other church leaders was itself “a large step forward.” And he is right to insist that bishops take responsibility for their flocks and for punishing abusers. After all, it was bishops—in Boston, in Pennsylvania, in Ireland—that made this mess. “They must be the ones to clean it up.”
There has been a shift, said Rachel Donadio in TheAtlantic.com. Vatican officials now discuss abuse “in terms of crime and punishment, not just sin and forgiveness.” But there’s a chasm between victims’ groups and many ordinary Catholics, who want a “one-strike” defrocking policy for abusive priests, and church higher-ups, who would rather judge each case individually. This suggests many Vatican officials still believe the abuse crisis “is an invention by an overly zealous secular media” or “lawyers out for settlements,” rather than a result of “a pervasive culture of cover-up in a hierarchical organization that oversees a billion souls.”