Understanding why the Synod of Bishops blinked on ‘zero tolerance’


October 30, 2018

By John L. Allen Jr.

If you’re an American Catholic, or an Australian, Irish, German, Chilean, or from pretty much anyplace else scarred by clerical sexual abuse scandals, news that a global summit of Catholic bishops in 2018 could walk up to the brink of endorsing a “zero tolerance” policy, only to pull back at the last minute, may seem almost incomprehensible.

One key to understanding how it happened is grasping that many Catholic bishops don’t hail from such places – actually, a strong majority don’t – and they bring widely differing perspectives and sensitivities to the table.

Here’s the tick-tock of how we got here.

The Oct. 3-28 Synod of Bishops on young people, faith and vocational discernment opened against the backdrop of a tumultuous series of new chapters in the abuse saga, including the damning Pennsylvania grand jury report; the resignation of ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick; a controversy in Australia over eroding the seal of the confessional; laicizations, bishops’ resignations and fresh revelations in Chile; and, of course, the infamous letter from Italian Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò accusing Pope Francis of knowing about McCarrick and covering it up.

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