Vatican Corner 03-03-2019

For four days – Feb. 23-26, 2019, the world’s top bishops gathered at the Vatican for the special meeting called by Pope Francis about clerical sexual abuse and child protection. Pope Francis presided over the meeting and every day the participants listened to the brutal video testimony of abuse survivors and indifference they experienced from Church leaders. One Nigerian nun lambasted those present with their hypocritical silence and lack of transparency. A veteran Vatican news reporter from Mexico warned that “if you do not decide in a radical way to be on the side of the children, mothers, families, civil society, you are right to be afraid of us”, and if (you) remain in denial, honest reporters “will be your worst enemies.” The meeting discussed responsibility, transparency and accountability. There were working group discussions, a penitential liturgy and a closing Mass with final remarks from Pope Francis. Outside the Vatican walls there were abuse survivors marching and holding news conferences. Some handpicked speakers described their proposals in detail, but follow-through looks to be months or years ahead, if at all. Pope Francis used strong words saying “consecrated persons, chosen by God to guide souls to salvation, let themselves be dominated by their human frailty or sickness and thus become tools of Satan. ”He called “for an all-out battle against the abuse of minors” and insisted the Church needed to protect children “from ravenous wolves.” He vowed “to combat this evil that strikes at the very heart of our mission.” However, his failure to announce immediate and concrete steps to address the problem caused abuse victims and other frustrated faithful to express outrage and disappointment. They had been hoping he would use his absolute authority to institute a church wide law dismissing abusive priests and the bishops who cover up for them. Pope Francis instead thought the best way to address the problem was to change the hearts and minds of church leaders at the local level around the world. He used the meeting to try and persuade skeptical bishops to take strong action against abusive clergy and to hold themselves accountable for protecting the faithful in their dioceses. It was announced that there were some specific steps to be taken soon: tighter child-protection laws within the Vatican, a “very brief” handbook for bishops to understand their duties regarding abuse cases, and a new task force of experts and canon lawyers to assist bishops in countries with less resources. There will also be follow up meetings to address “What next?” Father Zollner a member of Organizing Committee said that attitudes were changed by the meeting and people have been transformed: they are determined to “go back home and do something about it.” Cardinal DiNardo, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said the U.S. Church would go forward with ideas “in communion with the Holy See” and consider passing concrete measures when all American bishops meet again in June. Baltimore Archbishop William Lori said “in America we want the quick fix, the rule the law …I think [Francis] is also asking us to step back to pray and reflect and discern and get it right.”