The Editors: Pope Francis needs to restore trust in response to sex abuse crisis
On Dec. 21, Pope Francis spent the morning addressing members of the Roman Curia. He focused on the need to reform the Curia, as well as the Curia’s relationship to the world outside the Vatican. That relationship must be characterized, he said, by a spirit of service. Later that afternoon at St. Peter’s Basilica, he offered the final prayers at the funeral of Cardinal Bernard Law, the former archbishop of Boston who had been appointed as the archpriest at Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome after being forced to resign as the sexual abuse crisis unfolded in Boston. As the cardinal was laid to rest, the church waits for Pope Francis to officially renew the mandate of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, which had been allowed to expire on Dec.17. The official renewal is expected soon, with the membership of the commission to be announced in the new year.
It is typical protocol for the pope to offer the final commendation at the funeral of a cardinal in Rome, and long waits for official Vatican actions and announcements are nothing new. But the juxtaposition of these events is jarring to the world outside Rome. As attention is again focused on Cardinal Law, a symbol of the church’s abject failure during the sex abuse crisis in the United States, many survivors of abuse and other Catholics are wondering when the church will publicly hold bishops accountable for misdeeds and inaction in responding to sex abuse.
Pope Francis should recognize that, for the world outside the Vatican, much greater transparency is necessary. He should act swiftly to establish it.
Pope Francis’ apparent lack of urgency in re-appointing members of the sex abuse commission and the lack of clarity about how survivors will be represented among those members is alarming. Confidence in the commission was already damaged earlier this year when Marie Collins, the only survivor of sexual abuse still active on the commission, resigned in protest against curial opposition to the process of reform. Healing and reconciliation within the church would be assisted immeasurably by a clear papal statement recognizing the need for transparency around the work of the commission and the reforms it proposes.
Catholics are called to trust the church and its leaders, and they want to respond to that call generously. But in its handling of sex abuse, the church spent decades squandering that trust. Continued bureaucratic delay on the renewal of the commission further erodes that trust. The lack of clear public action to hold church leaders accountable for their role in allowing sex abuse to happen damages that trust as well. Pope Francis should recognize that, for the world outside the Vatican, much greater transparency is necessary. He should act swiftly to establish it.