As many of you are aware, Pope Francis met with the heads of all of the local Bishops’ Conferences throughout the world last month to discuss the clergy sex abuse scandal, and the subsequent scandals with how many of these abuses were handled by bishops. Since I know this issue is very much on people’s minds, I thought that a brief update was in order.
In his speech at the conclusion of this meeting (https://www.pbc2019.org/home), Pope Francis acknowledged that the abuse of children is a problem that exists in every part of the world and is much bigger than just the Catholic Church, but he also agreed that this abuse is particularly atrocious when committed by a representative of the Church. He also acknowledged the failure of the Church to prevent abuse and to serve victims of abuse in their quest for healing and justice. He said, “The Church has now become increasingly aware of the need not only to curb the gravest cases of abuse by disciplinary measures and civil and canonical processes, but also to decisively confront the phenomenon both inside and outside the Church. She feels called to combat this evil that strikes at the very heart of her mission, which is to preach the Gospel to the little ones and to protect them from ravenous wolves.”
In order to ensure that none of the participating bishops thought that this scandal does not apply to them, the meeting included testimonies from abuse victims from all over the world. Many groups were disappointed that no concrete actions were taken at this meeting, but instead the bishops were charged with taking action at the local level. The head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, said that this would require strengthening the Dallas Charter. As you may recall, the Dallas Charter was implemented in 2002 in order to strengthen the protection of minors. Among other things, it imposed a zero-tolerance policy for any clergy credibly accused of sexual abuse, as well as mandating Safe Environment Programs for every diocese, which govern the training and screening of all Church workers and volunteers. On the one hand, the Dallas Charter has been effective in dramatically reducing the number of abuse cases in this country; indeed, most of the cases that are causing so much pain right now occurred decades ago. On the other hand, recent events (including the scandal involving then-Cardinal McCarrick, and the abuses recorded by the Pennsylvania grand jury) showed that there is still a lot of work to be done. It exposed loopholes in the Dallas Charter regarding the conduct of bishops, and it showed a failure of transparency and justice in those older abuse cases.
Since the Pope has called for “concrete and effective measures,” Cardinal DiNardo indicated that this will include “a code of conduct for bishops, the need to establish specific protocols for handling accusations against bishops, user-friendly reporting mechanisms, and the essential role transparency must play in the healing process.” He also stressed that the laity will need to be heavily involved in this process.
I am hopeful that some of these concrete measures will be implemented by the bishops when they meet next this June. I’ll continue to keep you updated periodically so that we don’t let this issue fade from view, but I also encourage you to stay informed on your own, and to keep this need for healing within our Church at the forefront of your prayers.