Two new pieces on the burgeoning sexual abuse crisis are now up on our Web site. First, a Web-only analysis from Thomas J. Reese, S.J. of the Woodstock Theological Center (and former editor of America, of course) on what the European bishops can learn from the U.S. sexual abuse crisis.
The biggest miscalculation the American bishops made was to think that the crisis would pass in a few months. Hunkering down and waiting for the storm to pass is a failed strategy. Unless they want this crisis to go on for years as it did in the United States, the European bishops need to be transparent and encourage victims to come forward now. Better to get all the bad news out as soon as possible than to give the appearance of attempting a cover-up.
American bishops also made the mistake of blaming the media, blaming the permissive culture and trying to down play clerical abuse by pointing out that there are 90,000 to 150,000 reported cases of child sexual abuse each year in the United States. While there is truth in all this, it is counterproductive for the bishops to make these arguments, which come across as excuses. Rather the bishops should condemn the abuse, apologize and put in place policies to make sure that children are safe. Nor is one apology enough. Like a husband who has been unfaithful to his wife, they must apologize, apologize, apologize.
And from the editors, a call for institutional conversion that requires greater accountability, transparency and a more prominent role for the laity.
The shame associated with the abuse of children by Catholic priests is borne these days by all Catholics forced to explain to incredulous friends and acquaintances how this could have happened, how it could have gone on so long, how it could have been allowed to become so extensive—questions that still require a proper answer. Like a millstone around our necks, the scandal, year after endless year, drags us all down with it. How the church as the people of God respond to it should not be a question of loyalty to the pope nor even more demands for his resignation; it is a matter of restoring the church’s integrity as an institution and renewing the life of holiness for its members. It is a matter of corporate conversion.
It is clear we are no longer dealing with an “American problem.” We never were. This is a global crisis that requires a church-wide strategy. The whole church—from parish to diocese to Roman Curia—needs to respond with the resources and the urgency it demands.
Lay participation in church governance is a conciliar value more honored in the breach than in the practice. That is no longer acceptable. The faithful must insist that parish and diocesan pastoral councils be activated and that they be given greater authority in canon law. Positions of real responsibility also need to be assigned to lay people and women religious for decision-making roles in church government. Humility should be a virtue for all to embrace just now, but especially for church leaders in seeking the guidance of the faithful.