Abuse: Can we trust Church leaders?
By Coleen Constable – The latest distressing but important reports about the sexual abuse in the Church require fresh reflection.
Again there is evidence of a cover-up, as seemed to emerge from a meeting Pope Francis had last month with Chilean abuse survivors Juan Carlos Cruz, James Hamilton and José Andrés Murillo.
The three men have accused a bishop appointed by Pope Francis of knowing about their abuse by the influential priest Fr Fernando Karadima, whom the Church has found guilty of abuse, and doing nothing about it.
Pope Francis had strongly defended Bishop Juan Barros, at one point even suggesting his critics were lacking in honesty. The pontiff has since apologised and retracted his defence of Bishop Barros, citing “a lack of truthful and balanced information”.
At a press conference, the three abuse survivors identified as “part of the problem” the apostolic nuncio to Chile, Archbishop Ivo Scapolo, and Cardinal Franscisco Errázuriz, the retired archbishop of Santiago and member of the pope’s Council of Cardinals. They are suspected of providing misinformation to Pope Francis about allegations of sexual violence.
Pope Francis’ integrity regarding how he deals with sexual abuse complaints is blotted. His leadership ability to eradicate the scourge of sexual abuse is under scrutiny. He has made mistakes—more than once. I call it negligence.
We should analyse these incidents and the culture within the Catholic Church. We owe it to ourselves and future generations to contribute towards processes that will facilitate true change regarding the management and investigation of sexual abuse complaints.
Can the Catholic Church self-regulate effectively insofar as it refers to complaints of sexual abuse?
Is the Church able to render prompt and efficient service to survivors of abuse: urgent action following reporting and independent investigations with immediate and appropriate action?
Even 16 years after the abuses scandal exploded in Boston, the Barros case points to a lack of respect through mismanagement of complaints at the very first stage of reporting. It reveals poor governance and a laissez fair attitude towards survivor complaints.
It also shows that proper systematic processes are not effectively implemented to ensure that from the onset of reporting—the very first encounter with a church authority—due process is invariably followed.
The allegations of “misinformation” and the cover-ups indicate that the hierarchy—the Church leadership and those who hold authority—has not uniformly embraced a process of true change management and good governance regarding prevention and eradication of sexual abuse.
So what should we do? Drawing from my studies in policy and governance, gender-based violence, law and social justice, I am convinced that the history of the Church regarding sexual abuse and the papacy—not just Pope Francis but many popes—shows it to have failed to provide sustainable results and change which would increase confidence to report abuse.
There are also questions about the Church’s investigations: the quality thereof and the strong bias that could exist when a Church authority investigates itself, cannot be ignored.
I suggest that Pope Francis and his Council of Cardinals review the current reporting requirements of the Church to the effect that the faithful and all survivors of abuse report such information to the policing authority in their respective country without engaging the Church.
Sexual abuse is a criminal offence in international law. It is a violation of international human rights and the various protocols that cover the rights of women, children and vulnerable groups.
In short: there should be a campaign to encourage the faithful and survivors of abuse to report complaints to their local police station for an independent investigation.
True prevention and eradication of abuse will be achieved when the first level of reporting occurs outside of the Church.
Imprisonment of perpetrators and their accomplices/accessories to the act will become a reality.
The hierarchy of the Church would no longer blame someone else for failure to act: they will know that it is no longer “business as usual”.
They will understand that the criminal behaviour of perpetrators harms the Church: it has never been the actions of survivors of abuse or their ambassadors that “harm the Church”. No one is above the law.
Colleen Constable is a co-founder of the South African Institute for Violence Prevention.
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