Zero Tolerance

The Catholic Church could not ask for a better climate in which to hold its summit entitled “Protection of Minors in the Church” — Donald Trump playing footsie with the brutal North Korean dictator on one side of the world while his former lawyer all but confirmed that the president committed serious crimes while in office on the other.  It’s just the art of the   deal   distraction, allowing the dismal failure of the pope’s sexual abuse summit to go largely unreported.

Despite preaching “zero tolerance” and holding a show summit on sexual abuse by members of the clergy that was a dismal failure in which lay people, both women and men, experts in the law, psychology, and criminology were excluded, I ask you, what could be more wrong with this picture?

Vatican sex abuse summit 2019-02-21

Pope Francis chairs the four-day meeting on the global sexual abuse crisis involving cardinals, bishops, and priests
at the Vatican February 21, 2019, surrounded by — wait for it —
cardinals, bishops, and priests

190 bishops who are heads of bishops’ conferences from around the world as well as ten women religious who lead their orders of nuns and their counterparts from men’s orders gathered for the summit.  But to get a real sense of the current state of the crisis you had to look outside in the streets around the Pope Paul VI Hall where you would find sexual abuse victim-survivors and their supporters telling their stories and giving interviews.  This farce of a summit was, to quote theologian Dr. Mary Hunt, Ph.D.“held at the wrong time with the wrong people about the wrong issues.”  Had the summit been held when the twin crises that precipitated it, the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report which uncovered shocking numbers of victims and priest-perpetrators and reports that the former Cardinal-Archbishop of Washington DC, Theodore McCarrick, had been sexually abusing seminarians and priests with the full knowledge of the Vatican which continued to promote him, then the news which has come out since then would be off the table for last month’s summit and it would be harder to claim an orchestrated coverup.  As it is, since August of last year we have learned:

  1. a report on children fathered out of wedlock by priests is under review
  2. 3,700 sexual abuse cases are being pursued by 20 public prosecutors against priests and Church officials in Germany's 27 Catholic dioceses 
  3. McCarrick actually sexually abused one of his victims in the confessional (so much for the sanctity of the sacraments!  cf:  Crimen sollicitationis, a 1962 document, approved by Pope John XXIII, in effect until May 18, 2001, which imposed secrecy on priests, bishops, and victims involved in sexual acts; the punishment for speaking publicly of such matters:  excommunication)
  4. there is a worldwide problem of priests sexually abusing nuns under review by the Vatican
  5. the Apostolic Nuncio (pope’s ambassador) to France, Archbishop Luigi Ventura, is under investigation for molesting a government (of France) staffer
  6. a study of gay, sexually active priests and bishops in high positions at the Vatican appropriately entitled “In the Closet of the Vatican:  Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy” has been published, and is available on Amazon! (Follow the link)

Of course, none of this came up at the pope’s summit.  Instead, those gathered saw videos of survivors telling their stories, a trick that allowed the bishops and abbots and provincials and generals to remain once removed from the pain they caused and were supposed to be addressing.  Reports are that some of the attendees were shocked by the videos, leaving us to wonder where they have been for the last decade; nobody is credibly that out of touch.  Methinks the lady doth protest too much!

Pope Francis’ concluding remarks set a new low for this crisis, relying on obfuscation and inscrutable church-speak like “impeccable seriousness” and “genuine purification,” leaving the world to sigh a collective “wtf?”  He started off on the wrong foot by trying to generalize the problem to take the heat off this uniquely Catholic phenomenon by saying, “Our work has made us realize once again that the gravity of the scourge of the sexual abuse of minors is, and historically has been, a widespread phenomenon in all cultures and societies.”  He is right, but that fails to acknowledge that the raison d’être, the Church's reason for existing is the well-being of the world’s people and in particular its vulnerable.  And the Church has failed — dramatically and demonstrably.  The pope continued his utterly clueless and deeply offensive comments by talking about “the mystery of evil, which strikes most violently against the most vulnerable.”  There is no mystery here.  Catholic priests and bishops abused children and some covered it up.  Full stop.

Zero tolerance is not a new concept enshrouded in impenetrable layers of canon law or something around which consensus needs to be built.  It is actually quite simple:  an accused priest should be dealt with by criminal authorities and leave ministry where the possibility of continuing to abuse power remains during an investigation, an investigation with presumed innocence that he is entitled to.  Is that too much to ask in the face of mounting evidence of criminal behavior and cover-ups?  Apparently so.  And when those authorities complete their investigation, charge the cleric, and he is found guilty by a jury, zero tolerance demands a swift response from the Church.

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