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Analysis: In spite of itself, Vatican abuse summit may still do some good

Is it possible, asks JD Flynn, to focus discussion so myopically and insistently on child sexual abuse as to ignore the idea that sexually abusing a 17-year-old might have something to do with sexual immorality among adults?

Pope Francis is seen Feb. 22, 2019, the second day of the Vatican meeting on the protection of minors. (CNS photo/Vatican Media via Reuters)

Vatican City, Feb 22, 2019 / 12:32 pm (CNA).- The Vatican’s abuse summit this week will not solve the problems plaguing the Catholic Church in the U.S.

In fact, it doesn’t aim to.

The summit was called by Pope Francis in September, shortly after he was accused of ignoring reports about the predatory behavior of disgraced former cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

But from the beginning, Pope Francis and meeting organizers have been disinclined to include in the summit’s schedule any discussion of the issues the Church in the U.S. faces.

Conference organizers, including Chicago’s Cardinal Blase Cupich, have insisted even this week that the summit will not discuss predatory homosexual behavior.

In a Feb. 22 press conference, Archbishop Charles Scicluna went so far as to acknowledge a reporter’s point that homosexual behavior in seminaries fosters a culture of cover-up, before he said, curtly, that “this has nothing to do with the sexual abuse of minors.”

Scicluna said this despite McCarrick’s coercion of both vulnerable seminarians and teenaged boys, and despite the fact that most clerical abuse of minors in the West has targeted post-pubescent boys.

In fact, the first reported victim of McCarrick was 16 and 17 at the time he was abused.

Is it possible to focus discussion so myopically and insistently on child sexual abuse as to ignore the idea that sexually abusing a 17-year-old might have something to do with sexual immorality among adults?

Will Catholics accept the presupposition that those who sexually abuse 17-year-olds have an entire different moral or psychological pathology than those who sexually abuse 18-year-olds, or who coerce them into the veneer of consent against the backdrop of an extraordinary power imbalance?

Those ideas, many Catholics will conclude, simply belie credibility.

The summit will also not discuss in-depth the need for mechanisms of accountability for negligent or malfeasant bishops, despite the fact that McCarrick’s behavior went unchecked even after it was reported multiple times, and the fact that several U.S. bishops now face charges of negligence or misconduct.

While Cupich gave a presentation on some approaches to procedural investigations, he presented only the plan that would vest investigative responsibility for bishops only in their archbishops, though lay experts, including the National Review Board in the U.S., have supported alternative proposals.

His address did not mention the potential for metropolitans to incur significant legal liability through the so-called “metropolitan model,” though this is a point of considerable importance with regard to the Church in the U.S.

Critics of the summit charge that the pope called this meeting mostly as a diversion from the accusations of negligence he’s faced personally, stemming from his handling of accused prelates in the U.S., South America, and Europe. The pope still faces questions about his handling of the cases of Chile’s Bishop Juan Barros, McCarrick, Argentine Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta, whom Francis promoted despite evidence of serious sexual malfeasance, among others.

But even if the narrow focus of this meeting is intended to change the topic of global conversation, this week’s abuse summit can still do some real good for children around the world. There is a serious need for safeguarding policies in most of the developing world, and introducing them in the Church may catalyze their more widespread adoption.

But by design, the Vatican summit won’t answer the issues embroiling local churches in the U.S. And Catholics are especially frustrated because when U.S. bishops attempted to vote on a reform package in November, they were stopped by the Vatican, and advised to wait until after this week’s meeting. Now some bishops wonder what, exactly, they were supposed to be waiting for.

Real reform in the diocese of the U.S., it is becoming clear, will depend a great deal on local bishops making local changes in their local churches. Last month, the Archbishop of Baltimore announced a comprehensive whistleblower policy for his diocese, rather than wait for one to be introduced nationally. Other bishops can follow suit.

In response to the crisis, they can also develop more exacting local norms for screening seminary candidates, take up new approaches to leadership of their priests and lay employees, and they can commit to making themselves accountable to independent lay leaders.

The work of the Church continues in this country, even amid the crisis it faces. Catholic schools continue to educate millions of students, many of them poor. Catholic charities continue to serve the homeless, the undocumented, and the unseen. Catholic hospitals continue to treat the uninsured. And Catholic parishes continue striving to love the unloved- those whom Pope Francis says live on the “existential peripheries” of our society. The Church does all this in service to the Gospel it professes. But to continue to do so with credibility, the sexual abuse crisis must be addressed.

Neither the Vatican nor the national bishops’ conference has yet acted decisively to address the full scope of the crisis. And this week, the Vatican seems to have demonstrated key components of the crisis. But local bishops can, and without waiting for anyone else to act. Some have already begun that work, and the rest may soon be convinced to join them.


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5 Comments

  1. “While Cupich gave a presentation on some approaches to procedural investigations, he presented only the plan that would vest investigative responsibility for bishops only in their archbishops.” Historical precedent for Metropolitan oversight notwithstanding, in view of contemporary realities and the nature of the crisis (incl. a pattern of cover-ups by corrupt, self-serving networks), Cupich’s plan sounds exactly like what you would cook up in a lavender mafia lab. Pope Francis surrounds himself with McCarrick protégés and allies. One hopes that Pope Francis is merely naive, undiscerning, and desperate to believe that those who share his ideology must be virtuous men; one shudders to think what the alternative may be true.

  2. Feb. 23rd: I am deeply saddened by what I read about this abuse summit in Rome. It seems to me as if there is a deliberate attempt on the part of the Pope’s close allies like Cupich to keep any radical movement for change out of the agenda. And that makes me wonder if Cupich himself, and other close associates of the Pope, are hiding something or have been engaged in cover-ups themselves – or worse. I believe that all of our Shepherds, globally, should themselves set a date to meet together here in the States for a radical and prayerful examination of the issues facing the Church, her prelates and her people. They should do this perhaps during Lent, a time of cleansing and purification and renewal. They should examine the cells of evil that now exist especially the promotion of homosexuality among clergy and by clergy. We are all sins but these particular sins have infested the Church and our seminaries and Churches up to the highest levels – including the Vatican. The failure to see this or the deliberate attempt to divert attention away from the presence of these evils are themselves evil. Our Catholic Bishops worldwide should themselves be instruments of cleansing and renewal because it will not happen in Rome. And they should speak up and speak out at all their annual and semi-annual meetings, confronting and challenging each other or be deemed cowards and deceitful Shepherds who do not defend the flocks God has entrusted to them. And we should do our part through prayer and radical living out of the Gospel – and also by confronting, with respect but with boldness and clarity, those Bishops who are openly defying Christ and His Church. If we don’t do this, who will? I’m sure God is watching to see who among us will answer His call to defend the Church and her teachings and her children in whatever way the Holy Spirit proposes…let us pray for our Church and our Bishops and for each other that we will have the courage and the love to do whatever God asks of us.

    • “It seems to me as if there is a deliberate attempt on the part of the Pope’s close allies like Cupich to keep any radical movement for change out of the agenda. And that makes me wonder if Cupich himself, and other close associates of the Pope, are hiding something or have been engaged in cover-ups themselves – or worse. ”
      Well….

  3. The author of this article places WAYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY to much trust in our Bishops to dig deep, route out all homosexual predators [even among themselves], & serve justice on those who are involved in the Cover-Up, especially among the Bishops.

    I believe the vast majority of American Bishops are FAR more concerned with opposing Trump’s Wall, supporting open borders, and allowing the LGBT BS to continue, such as Archbishop Gomez in California for one.

    No credibility left what-so-ever. They have no collective concern for the salvation of souls entrusted into their care, and seem to support Muslim immigration into America with no sound education of the ramifications of Islamic belief as a quasi-military man-made religion whose primary core focus is Islamic domination of the world.

    TO WIT: Quran 9:33 “It is He Who has sent His Messenger (Muhammad) with guidance and the religion of truth, Islam, to MAKE IT SUPERIOR TO ALL RELIGIONS even though the disbelievers of Allah hate it.”

    Quran (3:151) – “Soon shall We cast terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers, for that they joined companions with Allah, for which He had sent no authority”.
    Quran 5:51 “O you who believe! do not take the Jews and the Christians for friends; they are friends of each other; and whoever amongst you takes them for a friend, then surely he is one of them, says Muhammad; surely Allah does not guide the unjust people.”

    Absolutely crazy, and getting crazier every day.

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