Pope Francis makes his appearance Friday at the Vatican conference on Church sex abuse.
The conference on Church sex abuse opened four days ago at the Vatican with great fanfare. The first two days focused on the responsibility of church leaders in tending to their flocks and how the padres, bishops must be held accountable if they fail to properly protect young people from predators. Saturday, meanwhile, was dedicated to issues of transparency and "breaking the code of silence" that enables so many padre predators to escape punishment or any accountability.
On the final day (yesterday), it appeared the convened prelates had finally gotten serious with the pederast filth running amuck, at least from the rhetoric. The Pope, for example, called the guilty priests "tools of Satan" and the sex abuse itself "an abominable crime that must be erased from the face of the Earth." Even a single case was referred to as "an atrocity". Stirring words and sentiments but does he (or the Curia) really mean it?
Not according to a former nun (Mary Dispensa) from Seattle who was raped by a padre at age seven. Asked last night (on the ABC News) what was missing from the Pope's speech, she told ABC reporter, Ann Thompson, :
"Action. Quick, swift action!"
"Not one more child is safer after four days, because talking doesn't do it."
That seemed to be the consensus view of many victims, interviewed in the wake of the confab, either on assorted news shows or in the print media (like the WSJ, Financial Times). Indeed, quoted in today's WSJ ('Pope's Abuse Stance Disappoints Some', p. A6) we behold this reaction from Francesco Cesareo, chairman of the National Review Board, an organization that advises Bishops on child protection:
"I didn't see any concrete actions in the text. It's a lot of words that have been spoken over and over again."
Indeed, and Francis didn't help his case by trotting out the usual tropes to attempt to make the issue more diffuse instead of centered on the Church, i.e. "the abuse is a problem in the wider society beyond the Church" and "we must not be provoked into overreaction by guilt for past errors or the media".
Many victims - among at least 19,000 recorded and reported (there could be ten times more)- even held out hopes they'd be invited to address the convened Church dignitaries (mainly cardinals, archbishops) personally, but it was not to be. Only one actual victim was permitted into the conference to address the prelates and he was then quickly given a violin to play. The others had to be content with pre-edited video appearances, not much more.
Take from that what you will, the Vatican's "sex abuse summit" has generally been interpreted in the media as the pope's most high profile initiative ever to address the Catholic Church's long running sexual abuse crisis. Also, the announcement of the summit back in September followed a strong of major scandals in the U.S., Latin America, Europe and Australia. So basically neither the pope or the cardinals cold ignore it much longer.
But that doesn't mean there is any consensus on how to deal with the thousands of pedophile priests that committed these vile crimes on the young innocent. Indeed, we've since learned the perfidy extends beyond the padres to sexual predator nuns as well. See e.g.
What really unnerves is how the Church conveniently adopts legalistic tropes and norms when it's expeditious to do so to avoid the hard work. For example, Francis emphasizing the "traditional principle of proportionality of punishment in penalizing abusers" (WSJ, 'Pope Decries Sexual Abuse in the Church', Feb. 22, p. A6) and connecting this to the "presumption of innocence" - A U.S. legal concept. (I.e. "presumed innocent until proven guilty").
The problem is that the accounts of survivors are mostly anecdotal and most will never be proven in courts of law. Hence, the perps - the predator padres- will always be presumed innocent. The Pope confirmed this take when declaring (ibid.) this fabulist "principle" he invokes means there must be prohibition of any publication of the offenders' names unless there is "definitive conviction" - which is nonsense. There will almost never be such conviction because: a) the statute of limitations has allowed most of the perps to escape, and b) most claims will lack first hand evidence (other than the victims' accounts) to make a legal trial compelling.
All of this malarkey aroused the ire of Anne Barrett Doyle of BishopAccountability.org, a group that tracks clerical abuse around the world. According to her (ibid.):
"I think they've set the bar so low that I think they want us to be pleasantly surprised."
However, most victims' have been rudely disappointed by the sham show going on at the Vatican, hardly "pleasantly surprised". One of those outraged by the Vatican's PR dog and pony show was Sister Veronica Openibo. She was among the few women invited to the conference and used her time at the podium to shame the church leadership for their silence in the face of odious, indeed horrendous, sexual crimes. She said (cf. Sunday Denver Post, Feb. 24, p. 2A) :
"How could the clerical church have kept silent, covering up these atrocities? We must acknowledge that our mediocrity, hypocrisy and complacency have brought us to this disgraceful and scandalous place we find ourselves as a church."
Sister Openibo has good reason for her outrage and the victims have even more in the face of more excuses, rationalizations and stone walling. And right at the top of the tactics is victim blaming, such as used by one Polish predator (WSJ, Feb. 23-24, p. A9) who laid the blame on "fifteen year old girls who dress like women". Seriously?
But the truth and accumulated facts belie this glib distraction M.O. Let's recall here that back in August, when a grand jury in Pennsylvania released a sweeping report that the church had covered up the abuse of more than 1,000 minors by some 300 priests over 70 years. At the time, as many other reports surfaced, Francis acknowledged the global scale of the problem when he issued a rare letter to Catholics worldwide condemning such “atrocities.”
But the pope offered no specific remedies, though he professed that all lay members ought to partake in efforts at change. What change? He didn't indicate but many outraged laity are now considering the draconian solution of withholding any and all money contributions, e.g. collected at Masses. As one put it: "We don't even know where this money goes?" Analogous empty bollocks recently appeared in a WSJ piece ('Everyday Catholics Can Fight Sex Abuse', Feb. 22, p. A15), wherein author Tim Busch offers nothing but the same old platitudes and worn out "remedies" i.e.
"The laity could work within the Church to promote accountability, repentance, and holiness at every level of the priesthood."
But this implies the priesthood has a core of "holiness" and is not merely the last redoubt and refuge for child sex predators, i.e. to find victims.
Ironically also, back in August Francis laid much of the blame for the sex abuse crisis on "excessive deference to the church' hierarchy." In other words, laying the blame on the "faithful" (laity) for being too respectful and gullible of padres' (and bishops') moral authority. .But I've always made clear - especially since the sex abuse crisis first erupted- that this moral authority has always been tentative and dependent - never absolute. In fact, we now know papal "infallibility" is itself a myth, a fable - passed on to the gullible to confer some special moral order on the papacy which it doesn't merit. To fix ideas we can turn to Hans Kung who writes on p. 143 of his book Infallible?:
"No one, neither Vatican 1 or Vatican II, nor the textbook theologians, has shown that the Church - its leadership or its theology - is able to put forward propositions which inherently cannot be erroneous."
In other words, NO pope can make error- free pronouncements. What this means is that if RC followers take Kung's words to heart - and they should- then the Vatican has forfeited any moral credibility. More importantly, to the vast constellation of outside observers- such forfeiture applies especially to its catalog of "sexual transgressions", e.g. artificial birth control, masturbation, etc. In other words, the "pelvic crimes"- in the words of one priest Ethics professor I knew at Loyola.
Without that moral credibility - and authority - i.e. to pass judgments on moral issues ranging from artificial contraception, to abortion, to masturbation, to homosexuality - the Catholic church emerges as an anachronism out of touch and out of its moral depth. This is the new moral perspective which needs to be endorsed by Catholics themselves, as opposed to showing "deference" to its moral pronouncements.
But there is only one logical way this retrenchment of deference can occur: That is, to finally acknowledge the doctrine of papal infallibility is a myth, or at least an anachronism that no longer serves the Church's modern mission or helps sustain any moral credibility.
Further, if the abusive priests are really "tools of Satan" what does this say about the Church's sacraments overall? If they were or are tools of Satan how did that happen given they had to have received Holy Orders? Did Holy Orders not work? Did Satan "hide himself" while the sacrament was bestowed? These are questions the Church needs to ask and answer before if talks about distributing new manuals and instructions to Bishops to halt the abuse.
Oh, and that also implies no longer blaming the victims and also posting the names of the priestly perpetrators on every Church door and in every bulletin. In the meantime, "zero tolerance", including permanently removing all clerical abusers from ministry, appears to have gone by the backboards in place of twaddle and vacuous bromides.
In the words of Peter Saunders, an abuse victim who resigned from the Pope's child protection commission in 2017:
"He's the supreme head of the Church, he has the power to do that (enact zero tolerance). If he doesn't do that then we're all wasting our time."
I fear that is exactly what the Pope and Vatican want to do, waste time by churning out excuses, bromides and bollocks. But the inescapable, logical fact remains that if the abusive clergy are indeed "tools of Satan" and have received Holy Orders, we must question the entire RC Church claim to holiness and moral superiority. Especially if "Satan" may be concealed within the Church's institutions and claimed moral fabric.