Failure of Leadership

The much trumpeted Vatican summit on sexual abuse came and went without a single step in the right direction. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops were prepared to bring accountability standards for bishops in line with the clerical reforms from the early 2000s, namely a one strike policy, late last year. They were ordered to stop their work for the sake of this summit. More time wasted.

There were several deep background articles published by The Wall Street Journal after the summit that articulated how far ahead of this issue the American Church stands. Cultural considerations around the world do not necessarily align with our intolerance for child sexual abuse, as hard to believe as that may be.

It appears that the official perspective of the Vatican is to balance the rights of the accused and to use the principle of proportionality in these matters with regard to the convicted. They view a one strike policy as draconian.

The proper response to the sexual abuse of a minor, let alone one committed by a person in a position of trust, is nothing short of draconian. The response should be immediate, severe, and with extreme prejudice. Due process, absolutely, but upon conviction, justice with the force of a tsunami, namely, immediate and permanent dismissal from the clerical state.

Pope Francis is right to remind us that this is a societal ill, not just a problem within the Church. However, we know is that sexual offenses are rarely one-off mistakes. Rather, they are part of a larger predatory pattern. When a perpetuator is caught, the only way to prevent further damage, is to bring the full weight of justice to bear.

To the point of proportionality, I offer this. Theodore McCarrick was rightly and permanently removed from the clerical state. He was not, however, expelled from the Church. The core message of Jesus and the mission of His Church is to reconcile the World to Himself. Although we cannot fathom the depths of His mercy, we do know that God’s love and forgiveness can overcome ANY sin, including those for which, in our human capacity, we cannot understand. Divine Mercy, coupled with Divine Justice, is the formula that reigns. Yes, a grave sin is forgiven through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, but the punishment due is only removed through further penitential works, grace, and in some cases, the difficult purification of Purgatory.

It’s nothing short of a failure in leadership, and a dereliction of duty, that the processes and rules are not in place, two decades into this crisis, to immediately dismiss a man from the clerical state upon conviction of sexual abuse of a child. This failure is further reinforced on a near weekly basis by Pope Francis’ refusal to fully engage on the issue. Most recently, Francis declined the resignation of Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, convicted in French courts of justice, for failure to report abuse.

The Church will withstand this crisis, and will emerge better for it. However, if Pope Francis and bishops will not bring us through it, then we clearly aren’t bringing enough pressure to bear. This can not stand.

© 2019 Chet J. Collins