An evasive Vatican must face clerical sex abuse directly
San Francisco Chronicle
February 29, 2016
|Pope Francis delivers his "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and to the world) blessing from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Friday, Dec. 25, 2015. |
If Rome won’t, maybe Hollywood will. That would be getting the Catholic Church moving on clerical sex abuse, a scandal more than a decade old that’s drawing pledges to reform but pathetically thin results.
The movie “Spotlight,” which depicts the Boston Globe’s disclosures of pedophile priests and an archdiocese that hid the problem, should galvanize a global public that is impatient with Vatican foot-dragging. Determined digging by the paper overcame an evasive and insulated church that masked the scandal of dozens of clerics who preyed on children. The movie underscores the timely and focused worth of serious journalism up against a powerful interest.
An Oscar should come in handy for another reason. The church is essentially rolling with the punch of this scandal. It’s hearing out critics and abuse victims and paying out enormous settlements in some cases. But Rome has stopped short of adopting the sweeping household rules that will prevent a recurrence and put church higher-ups on notice that they are responsible.
The infuriating stories spread far beyond Boston with church leaders in Los Angeles and Minneapolis shown as cover-up organizers. The church has been all too forgiving of itself. Boston’s Cardinal Bernard Law was kicked upstairs to a sinecure in Rome and never faced criminal charges or defrocking for his negligence.
The latest chapter puts the No. 3 figure in the church hierarchy, Cardinal George Pell, in the crosshairs of a inquiry in his native Australia, where thousands of children were allegedly molested for years in schools and church groups. Like nearly every other prelate facing trouble, he has denied ever hearing about sex abuse or following the familiar course of shuffling predators from parish to parish even though he was a top administrator for years.
But Pell is at least pouring on the contrite words, saying the church “had mucked things up.’’ He added, “I’m not here to defend the indefensible.” If that sounds promising or soul-baring, a listener should be wary.
His added emotions are welcome, but there needs to be genuine action, steps that the Vatican is undertaking very slowly. Bowing to pressure, the church has set up a policy-setting panel to hear from victims and weigh changes. It was set in motion last year and has yet to produce results as it tiptoes through a treacherous topic.
Most disappointing of all may be Pope Francis, whose humble and fearless outlook has led him to take on climate change and defend immigrants from political bullies such as Donald Trump. Francis has professed sorrow at the suffering caused by pedophile priests, whose victims are now found around the globe.
Francis needs to move more assertively. He must take the issue seriously and draw strict orders on handling complaints, disciplining priests and sanctioning upper-rank church leaders who cover up scandals instead of ending them. These steps would be the right outcome and maybe something more: a sequel to “Spotlight” that has a more satisfying ending.