No More Fudging!
Whatever the Catholic Church does in addressing the abuse scandal, it will never be seen as being good enough. And given the dimensions of the scandal, how could it ever be? it is regrettable that all missteps by the Church, even those made in ignorance, will cast a shadow over the good that is being done in its overdue response to the crisis
Still, it is regrettable that all missteps by the Church, even those made in ignorance, will cast a shadow over the good that is being done in its overdue response to the crisis.
The recent Vatican summit on abuse provided examples of that. With several speakers, mostly women, issuing forthright, articulate criticism of the hierarchy in ways which the Vatican has rarely heard, and even Church leaders speaking out in their criticism of other Church leaders, the summit accomplished more than one might have expected.
Moreover, the penitential service during the meeting issued exactly the kind of mea culpa which this newspaper had called for, with the pope at the forefront of the assembled prelates asking for forgiveness.
Clearly, this was not the feeble talkshop which some observers had anticipated. the penitential service during the meeting issued exactly the kind of mea culpa which this newspaper had called for, with the pope at the forefront of the assembled prelates asking for forgiveness.
And then, right at the closing of this historic summit, Pope Francis bungled by inappropriately locating the Church’s abuse scandal within a context of abuses elsewhere.
From there it did not matter that the pope went on to issue exactly what the pundits said was missing from the address, chiefly a commitment to “no tolerance”. Having contrived to turn off the listening ears, Pope Francis promised: “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” (an undertaking which now permits no exception).
By initially deflecting from the issue at hand — abuse within the Church — the pope set up a lightning rod which gave a pretext for selective reporting and some overwrought reactions which exceeded the bounds of legitimate critique.
There was a lot for bishops to learn at the summit, and Pope Francis added to this by providing a cautionary lesson: that even the most naive error will be harshly judged. The Church can expect no generosity of spirit, and it is in no position to ask for it. But criticism is becoming louder also within the Church, as the summit showed. Most of those voices submit their criticism not to tear down the Church but to help build it up again.
There will be times when the Church will be judged unfairly, and there are also those who will judge it with impure motives.
But criticism is becoming louder also within the Church, as the summit showed. Most of those voices submit their criticism not to tear down the Church but to help build it up again.
In our report this week, Bishop Sithembele Sipuka, the president of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference, described the summit on abuse as “a turning point in the life of the Church”, adding that “things will not be the same”.
We must hope that his fervour will not dissipate and that it will be shared by his brother bishops and their collaborators.
We must also hope that in implementing a new vision on dealing with abuse, the bishops and the faithful will find common purpose.
It is necessary that the protocols governing the safeguarding of children and dealing with allegations of abuse are properly implemented, observed and supervised, and subject to constant evaluation, review and revision.
In that regard, the Church in Southern Africa has done good work already. But the question is not only whether these measures are working, but whether they are perceived to be working. In that regard, the Church in Southern Africa has done good work already. But the question is not only whether these measures are working, but whether they are perceived to be working.
Most Catholics likely are unaware that they even exist, or that there is recourse for those who have been abused.
When priests are defrocked for abuse, as has happened in South Africa, this should be reported so that the public can be reassured that the protocols are working, and as a sign of transparency and accountability.
Too often the faithful are kept in the dark. Is it transparent and accountable when some situations are left to whispers, conjecture, secrecy and pretending that nothing happened?
And how do we, as the Church, clean up the mess of historical cases: those that were mishandled, those that were kept out of courts at huge expense, those that still need to be reported because the victims have had no confidence in the Church?
The speakers at the Vatican summit have made it very clear what is at stake. The bishops dare not fudge this.
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