Late yesterday Pope Francis announced--apparently after some prodding--that he will set up a panel to advise him on how to deal with child abuse by priests
The announcement was a forthright acknowledgment by the Vatican of the enduring problem of abusive priests, and fit with Francis’ pattern of willingness to set a new tone in the governance of the church nine months into his tenure.
Whether the new commission portends a significant change in how the Vatican deals with abusive priests and their protectors remains to be seen, experts on the church said. Yet the timing of the announcement, two days after a United Nations panel criticized the Vatican over its handling of abuse cases, suggested that the pope and his closest advisers wanted to at least be seen as tackling the issue with greater firmness.
Had it not been for the death of Nelson Mandela yesterday, this likely would have been THE major story yesterday. No word yet on who will be on this commission, but according to Sean Cardinal O'Malley, the archbishop of Boston and one of the main fixers in the abuse scandals, it will include priests, men and women from religious orders and laypeople and will have a sweeping mandate to develop "norms, procedures and strategies for the protection of children and the prevention of abuse of minors."
However, in what can only be described as a disappointment, it will focus mainly on pastoral care rather than judicial functions. And that gives two groups serving as watchdogs on this issue pause.
(T)he Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, known as SNAP, the leading United States-based support group for clergy abuse victims, called the news a disappointment that reflected badly on the new pope. David Clohessy, executive director of the group, said the announcement suggested that the Vatican remained strongly resistant to making sexually abusive members of the clergy and their church protectors accountable to external criminal prosecution.
“A new church panel is the last thing that kids need,” Mr. Clohessy said in a telephone interview. “Church officials have mountains of information about those who have committed and those who are concealing horrible child sex crimes and cover-ups. They just have to give that information to the police.”
BishopAccountability.org, an organization that has amassed an enormous collection of documents on the abuse problem in the church, gave a cautious welcome to the announcement, but also expressed skepticism.
“It’s good that the Vatican will be giving this terrible problem high-level and focused attention,” Anne Barrett Doyle, the group’s co-director, said in a statement. “But we are concerned that the commission will be toothless and off-target.”
In a press conference, O'Malley claimed that it was important to focus on pastoral care as well as the judicial aspect. The problem with that argument is that there are quite a few bishops who turned a blind eye to abuse, and one word from Francis would end their careers on the spot. Most notably, Robert Finn, who knew or should have known as early as 2010
that one of his priests, Shawn Ratigan, was a pedophile--and yet didn't do anything until the issue was essentially forced on him.