Pope Can Do More to Protect Kids
By Tom Watkins
Battle Creek Enquirer
April 18, 2016
Pope Francis inspires me with his message of hope and human decency. His words take me back to my childhood when I was in awe of the church and its teachings.
I learned about love, decency and justice from the nuns, priests and lay people who taught and guided me in my early years of Catholic school education.
Pope Francis gets it even as it seemed to me that the Catholic Church lost its moorings in past decades, spending more time on social moralizing, even as it neglected the teachings of Jesus about caring for the poor and the “least among us.” Pope Francis is a true champion of the poor and a force for positive change in the world.
Yet, to date, the pope has yet to do enough to wash away the child sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church.
While Pope Francis has said many things that need to be said about this scandal, he has not gone far enough to address the tentacles of evil that remain. If there are “unforgivable sins,” sexually abusing a child is one. It is wrong morally, spiritually and legally. Yet if there is such a thing as a “worse sin” or a greater crime, it is reserved for those higher up in the church hierarchy, who concealed and covered up this evil.
To date, Pope Francis has done more than his predecessors to address pedophilia’s stain on the church — but it is not enough.
It is not as if abuse of children is isolated to the Catholic Church and inflicted solely by priests — it isn’t. A recent report by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services shows the number of abused and neglected children in Michigan has risen to its highest level in more than 25 years.
This is a stain on policymakers under the Capitol Dome and should compel them to action in order to stop the disinvestment in prevention and other interventions that could reverse this spiral.
“Spotlight,” the Academy Award winning movie about child sexual abuse by priests in America, shone a bright light on this scandal within the Catholic Church.
The BishopAccountablity.com website that tracks reports of sexual abuse in the Church concludes that more than 17,200 Americans have alleged they were abused by more than 6,400 clerics from 1950 to 2013. These are startling numbers and show the depth of the problem and cover-up.
“Spotlight” earned an Oscar for Best Picture, but what about the children whose lives were ruined by sick priests and those who protected them?
Pope Francis says, “God weeps” at the sexual abuse of children and pledged that “all responsible will be held accountable.” The big question is: WHEN?
While Pope Francis’ proposed a Vatican tribunal to judge bishops who covered up for pedophile priests, a recent AP report uncovers it “is going nowhere fast.”
The director of the Survivors Network, nicknamed SNAP, David Clohessy is fighting for justice for those abused by priests, and he is frustrated with the pope and his lack of action on the issue. According to the article, “In Clohessy’s opinion, (Pope) Francis hasn’t done enough. Most of the priests accused remain in good standing with the church.”
The pope has it within his power to address this human stain. What I was taught as a child by good priests and nuns in the Catholic Church tells me he should act with greater urgency.
I believe the Catholic Church has a moral if not legal responsibility to do more to help victims of child sexual abuse.
A start at redemption would be for the pope to establish a multibillion dollar foundation dictated to helping survivors of priest rape and prevention, prosecution, imprisonment, and treatment of child molesters around the globe.
I still have faith in the teaching of the Catholic Church. Yet when it comes to the issue of truly taking action to address the horror of child sexual abuse that people of power in the church knew about and did nothing, the church reminds me of that old county song by Toby Keith, “A Little Less Talk And A Lot More Action.”
Tom Watkins is the president and CEO of the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on twitter@tdwatkins88