May 18, 2011

Vatican Continues to Disappoint on Abusive Priests

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

Cardinal William Levada

A Vatican directive for bishops to set national policies for dealing with abusive priests has been characterized as dangerously flawed and toothless by victim advocates.

The world’s Catholic bishops have one year to set national policies on clerical sex abuse of minors, the Vatican said on Monday (May 16), but such policies may vary significantly in each country, and will not be binding on individual bishops.

All national bishops’ conferences are to prepare “guidelines” on preventing abuse, caring for victims, disciplining abusive priests, and reporting suspected abuse to local police, according to a letter from Cardinal William Levada, head of the Vatican’s doctrinal office.

. . .

Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi called the May 2012 deadline a “very strong and eloquent statement” on the need to address sex abuse “promptly and effectively” around the world.

The Vatican's definition of "prompt" is to allow another year to address a problem that's been known for decades. It's definition of "effective" is a plan that is not universal, does not include a zero-tolerance policy, and does not penalize bishops who drop the ball.

One very small step forward in this directive is that it spells out that bishops must comply with legal requirements to report where those laws exist.

“One must collaborate with the situation that applies in each country,” Lombardi said. “If there are laws, then the laws should be observed. If there are no laws, it is not for us to make them.”

Ideally that should put an end to the mixed messages from the Vatican that allowed horrible incidents like the Vatican endorsed obstruction of justice, which glorified Bishop Pierre Pican for refusing to turn an abusive priest over to the French authorities. That warped sense of priorities apparently went all the way to the top; the recently beatified Pope John Paul II.

But where there are no such laws, bishops are not required to take the initiative of seeking justice for victims. So there appears to be no break from the policy articulated last year by Monsignor Charles J. Scicluna, the Vatican's DA.

A frequent accusation directed at the ecclesiastical hierarchy is that of not denouncing the crimes of pedophilia of which they were aware to the civil authorities.

In some countries with an Anglo-Saxon legal culture, but also in France, the bishops – if they become aware of crimes committed by their priests outside of the seal of the sacrament of confession – are required to report them to the civil authorities. That’s a very grave matter, because these bishops are being forced to take a step comparable to a parent who denounces his or her own child. That notwithstanding, our position in these cases is to respect the law.

So the model for the Church is that of the deeply dysfunctional family, in which abuse is swept under the carpet, binding generations in shame. Sick as our secrets, people. Sick as our secrets.

What about situations in which bishops aren’t legally required to do it?

In these cases, we do not impose an obligation on bishops to denounce their own priests, but we encourage them to contact the victims to invite them to report the priests who victimized them. Beyond that, we invite them to give every kind of spiritual assistance, and not just spiritual, to these victims. In a recent case regarding a priest condemned by an Italian court, it was precisely this congregation that suggested to the accusers, who came to us for a canonical process, to also take it to the civil authorities, in the interests of the victims and also to avoid further crimes.

So unless church officials are legally compelled to report, vulnerable, traumatized victims are on their own. They'll protect their own "sons" but the children they failed to protect from those "sons" will have to deal with the legal system themselves. They'll offer moral support, though. They'll definitely offer moral support. So they're still giving their obligation to priests priority over their obligation to the membership that puts its faith in the Church and puts money in its coffers.

And they'll comply with the law when they have to but grudgingly; very grudgingly.

This process is being overseen by Cardinal William Levada, which could explain a few things. If the name sounds familiar, it should. This is the genius cited previously whose explanation for the rampant sexual abuse in the Catholic Church was to blame society.

As I have been cataloging now for over a year, sexually abusive priests have been enabled by a system that simply does not seem capable of recognizing the gravity of the crime. To understand the level of denial in the highest echelons of the Church, look no further than this elucidation from Monsignor Charles Scicluna.


“This is a long-term planning procedure. It has taken some time for the Church to recognise that there have to be clear guidelines. [emphasis added] It is a good day for people who expect that the Church gives the good example, even when it comes to the protection of minors.”

It's taken, at the very least, decades for the Church to recognize the need for "guidelines" to protect children from being raped. Not hard-fast rules, mind you. Guidelines. How much longer will it take for Vatican officials to realize that perpetrators of the most horrible, debilitating, life-destroying forms of abuse, need to be unequivocally and aggressively consequenced. And that they must be removed from positions that grant them access to, and authority over, minors.

Even here, in the United States, where the most stringent Church rules have been mandated since 2002, the recently revealed failure of the Philadelphia archdioceses to protect children from predatory priests, raises serious questions about the Church's ability to deal with the problem. How much worse can it be where no such rules exist? I shudder to think.

Faced with this continuing crisis, the Vatican's response is to ask bishops nicely to come up with some guidelines for themselves that they don't really have to follow if they don't want to. History has shown us that they don't want to.

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