Will Pope use largest ever meeting of priests to announce new global abuse policy?

More than 10,000 priests from 91 countries will gather in Rome today through Friday in what is thought to be the largest ever meeting of Catholic clergy.

Advertisement

The three-day program of events -- mostly eucharistic, as you'd expect -- marks the close of the Year of Priests declared by Pope Benedict XVI with the object of fostering internal renewal.

It's not clear what the gathering is for, exactly, beyond the usual "deepening communion with the Holy See". Nor is it as international as it may look: at least a third of the priests will be Italians (3,500 have confirmed their attendance).

But given the way the image of the Catholic priest (at least in the eyes of the non-Catholic world) has plummeted this past year, it could turn out to be an immense opportunity for the successor of Peter to send out some new signals.

I recently gave an interview to the flagship BBC documentary program Panorama about Pope Benedict XVI's role in the clerical sex abuse crisis. They were rushing to get it finished in time to go out this week, because of the expectation that on Thursday Pope Benedict would be making a major announcement on the issue. (As it happens, the schedulers changed their mind, and the program, presented by Fergal Keane, will be broadcast later in the year).

If the Pope is going to be a major statement, it has hardly been trailed from the rooftops. But then, the Vatican communications office doesn't often go in for "curtain-raising". So watch this space.

It's impossible to imagine that the Pope will simply ignore the issue when the priests gather in St Peter's Square Thursday evening for what is described in the program as "testimonies and music, dialogue with Benedict XVI and Eucharistic adoration and benediction". How can he address history's largest gathering of priests after a year in which the clerical sex abuse crisis has raged, and stay silent? It would be deeply disappointing - not least to priests on the frontline of public suspicion and hostility. 

But if he does address it, will it be a groundbreaking statement that goes beyond his powerful Lenten letter to the Irish Church, or stay within its confines? Will it be a largely spiritual speech, developing some of the thoughts that he has recently let slip -- that the sin is within the Church, that the "hostility" of the media is an opportunity for self-purification, and so on?

Or will he, dramatically, announce a new global policy on the Church's handling of clerical sex abuse, one which in effect extends the Anglo-Saxon model -- statutory handing-over of accusations to police and social services -- to the whole Church? I have heard that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has been working on such a new policy. 

Universal guidelines are not easy to impose, because of the immense variety of juridical and political contexts in which the Church operates worldwide -- including totalitarian or failed states. There was a case not long ago of a Kenyan woman complaining that the Church in her country had passed her allegations to the police, who had failed to act (or needed bribing to do so); the scandal, for her, was not that the bishop had covered up by failing to alert the police, but that he had shirked his responsibility precisely by handing the matter over to the police. What is seen as responsible action in one part of the world is seen as irresponsible buck-passing in another.

But Pope Benedict may have decided that the advantages of a universal "Anglo-Saxon" model for the handling of clerical sex abuse outweigh the disadvantages -- and that, in effect, he has no alternative. He may also have decided that such a policy is the only way of putting an end to the clericalist culture of omertà exemplified recently by the views of the pre-2004 head of the Congregation for the Clergy, Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos. (The Congregation's new head, the Brazilian Franciscan cardinal Claúdio Hummes, has signalled a very different approach).

The Pope must know that the "keep-it-in-the-family" response to clerical sex abuse is not an outmoded attitude in some parts of the Church -- not least Poland, which is the next place where the crisis is likely to erupt on a scale similar to Ireland; and that only by imposing statutory reporting to civil authorities can it be avoided. 

Or perhaps the forces against a radical new policy are too strong and the canonical obstacles too great. Perhaps Pope Benedict will tell the priests some compelling and beautiful things about internal renewal and anchoring their lives in fidelity to Christ, while steering clear of new policies and guidelines. 

Vediamo, as they say in Rome.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Peter Lakeonovich
7 years 6 months ago
1. How is a gathering of 6,500 priests from 90 different countries (plus 3,500 from one other country) "not as international as it may look?" It is as international as it looks. Not to worry, the comment served its purpose in setting the tone for the rest of the blog entry.

2. Is the image of the priest that admittedly has "plummeted this past year" the real image of the priest (i.e., the only image that matters)? Pope Benedict, in his April 14, 2010, General Audience at St. Peter's Square, stated the following: "Ultimately, what should always be recognizable in a priest is the voice of the Good Shepherd." Is this the image that has "plummeted?" No, this is not the image that has plummeted because this is not the image that has been cultivated. Our priests do not need to recover any "plummeted" image, they need to discover to portray the voice of the Good Shepherd, the image of Jesus Christ.

3. Pope Benedict has addressed the abuse issue head on, and he has stated his views repeatedly and his call to holiness ultimately is the only real solution. If he addresses it again during this period, great. If he does not, I am sure there is a dead horse somewhere that will be happy.

4. As to any new policies, vediamo.
ed gleason
7 years 6 months ago
A papal promise to look at the issue of mandatory celibacy would get the attention of the vast majority of the Catholic laity... the hope of expanding the priesthood would be real news. In ten years we would see the Square filled with married priests and their families.. Priests holding up their young to glimpse the new Pope. now that's a pic to hope for. ..
Cheer leading is not a solution for the obvious meltdown. And denial of the meltdown seems to be the only new policy initiative.   
Ronna Devincenzi
7 years 6 months ago
The image of priests plummeted 10 years ago, with revelations of the abuse of children in the US. It just did a freefall within the past year, as a result of news that this phenomena had happening throughout Europe, and for decades.

Further, the loss of esteem for priests is not limited to non-Catholics. I know plenty of fellow life-time Catholics that are no longer so willing to 'pray, pay and obey' men wearing Roman collars.

All the fallout has been due to revelations about the abuse of children and the bishop's cover-ups. How about all those priests that endorse celibacy, but... celibacy with 'priviledges".

Lay people are beginnning to learn about clergy 'lapses' - where priests and bishops DO have sex, but it's with other adult men, or more commonly with adult women. 22-45% of the clergy, priests and bishops, are homosexual. That's way too much.

Allow a married male priesthood. If St. Peter wanted to be a priest today, he would be refused, because he was married. It's time to get real - no more priests living double lives.

Ed is correct - let the Pope's statement do something that will cause lay people to once again trust the clergy: talk about ending mandatory celibacy for the diocesan priesthood. Priests and bishops ought to be able to marry (a woman) at any time - 1Corinthians 9:5, 1Timothy 3-1-5 and Titus Chapter One.

SNAP Network
7 years 6 months ago

Promises are usually easy to make, hard to keep, and broken often if there's no oversight or penalties. That's crucial to keep in mind with church abuse policies in an institution with no checks and balances or real accountability mechanisms. And that's why such policies, even now, in the US and elsewhere, are so frequently ignored.
- Barbara Blaine, president, SNAP - Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, PO Box 6416, Chicago, IL 60680, 312-399-4747, [email protected], SNAPnetwork.org
Kate Smith
7 years 6 months ago
The announcement, if there is one, should be about enforcement of policies which are not enforced.   There should be clear accountability, equally applied.   How is Sr. Margaret McBride excommunicated when bishops and religious superiors who moved abusers around are not excommunicated?
 
In a VERY current and contemporary situation, I am observing and documenting this problem in the Jesuit order.  A Jesuit provincial Tim McMahon, who allowed an abusive Jesuit to engage in ministry and teaching, was named the president of a Jesuit high school in Denver, starting next month.   Why wasn't he excommunicated?   How could anyone assign a known perp protector to a high school?
 
In the pages of America magazine, Jesuits talk about taking responsiblity.   I see first hand that the Missouri Jesuits do not do this.   I shared with Jesuits a recent experience of drinking way too much, with Jesuit abuse and dying on my mind, and vomiting blood (for the first time).   Do you know what Jesuits did?   They told my lawyer that talk of blood and death was a threat to kill them.     Jesuits become lunatic, schizophrenic, to avoid taking responsibility.   They literally are out of their minds, so they do not have to be pastoral.
 
I am amazed that these problems continue in 2010.
 
And just to prove that there is no accountability in the Jesuit order in Rome, I sent all the evidence to Fr. Nicolas.  
MAUREEN TURLISH SISTER
7 years 6 months ago
What has really changed in the United States since the bishops' backs were forced to the wall in 2002 leading to the creation of new policies? Publicly, yes, the spin has been in for the past eight years. But in reality the foundational corruption that led first to the revelations of the sexual abuse of thousands of children by priests to say nothing of the abuse of young women, men, vulnerable adults, seminarians and nuns, and secondly even worse, if that is possible, the broad pattern of cover ups by bishops in dioceses from Boston, Massachusetts to Los Angeles, California goes on and on and on.

Now there's Bishop Blaire who will try to justify his pay off annuity of about $ 100,000.00 to Oliver O'Grady this weekend and a party in Rome hosted by the Legionaries of Christ for the Roman Catholic Church's hierarchy. The scandal is that the event was so well attended.

And bishops in the United States continue to fight against legislative reform.

The causes of this debacle have yet to be dealt with.

HOLDING CLERGY AND CHURCH LEADERS ACCOUNTABLE BEFORE THE LAW

Professor Marci Hamilton and Sister Maureen Paul Turlish on NPR's Radio Times on WHYY Philadelphia 04/12/2010

http://whyy.org/cms/radiotimes/2010/04/12/holding-clergy-and-church-leaders-legally-accountable-for-child-abuse/

Sister Maureen Paul Turlish
Victims' Advocate
New Castle, Delaware
[email protected]
Kate Smith
7 years 6 months ago
I have a question, which was very much on my mind after I posted my earlier comment here.   Could someone ask Fr. Nicolas a question for me, and come back with his answer?
 
My question is this.  Does Fr. Nicolas work for the people of God, or for his staff?
 
(I didn't ask  "Does Fr. Nicolas work for the people of God, or for the Society?", which is a good question too.)    
 
I am talking about his staff, the people he appoints.   Fr. Grummer, the US rep for Fr. Nicolas, ignores all the problems he is told about - every single time.   Fr. Marcouiller, the provincial that Fr. Nicolas appointed for Missouri, has been caught red handed with lies.   This is Fr. Nicolas' staff.   Grummer ignores serious problems with Missouri.    When I contact Nicolas, he ignores me.   ALL of this behavior pre-dated litigation for a year.
 
So I am very curious about how Fr. Nicolas sees his role in the world.  I mean, it seems to me you don't have to be a priest, you don't even have to be Catholic, you don't even have to have any religious faith, to lead the Jesuits.

Advertisement

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

Homeless people are seen in Washington June 22. Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Fla., chair of the U.S. bishops' domestic policy committee, released a statement Nov. 17 proclaiming that the House of Representatives "ignored impacts to the poor and families" in passing the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act the previous day. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)
The United States is thwarting the advancement of millions of its citizens, a UN rapporteur says.
Kevin ClarkeDecember 16, 2017
Why not tax individuals for what they take out of society instead of what they contribute?
Paul D. McNelis, S.J.December 15, 2017
Pope Francis will renew the mandate of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors for another three years, informed sources told America this week.
Gerard O’ConnellDecember 15, 2017
Worshippers recite the Lord's Prayer during Mass at Corpus Christi Church in Mineola, N.Y., on Oct. 13. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz, Long Island Catholic)
Making ancient Scripture sensible in contemporary languages will always prove a hazard-heavy challenge.
Kevin ClarkeDecember 15, 2017