February 28, 2019
By Maeve Lewis
It is more than 30 years since the scandal of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church began to emerge across the English-speaking world.
At first a few isolated survivors told their stories, soon followed by an avalanche of revelations. Regardless of the location, the same patterns appear: disclosures followed by cover-ups, priests relocated to abuse again. The church’s response has been abysmal, and it is only through investigations by the civil authorities that we now know the full truth. In Ireland, the Ferns, Ryan, Murphy and Cloyne reports each revealed the same dismal pattern: children were recklessly endangered to protect the status of the church.
While bishops’ conferences in some countries have put in place good child safeguarding procedures, both they and the Vatican have struggled to develop an adequate response to the bishops and cardinals who were part of the cover-up. The recent long-delayed defrocking of American cardinal Theodore McCarrick and the conviction of Australian cardinal George Pell for sexual offences show that sexual predators exist in the highest echelons of the church, but there has been little effort to hold accountable those leaders who concealed sexual crimes by priests under their authority.
When Pope Francis was elected, many survivors hoped for a fresh and vigorous approach to child protection. From putting in place a Vatican Commission for the Protection of Minors in 2014 to calling a Vatican Summit on Child Protection last week, hopes were high that an era of zero tolerance had begun.
Sadly, the reality has been different, from failing to implement the recommendations of his own commission to calling Chilean survivors liars. The Pope has refused to create a Vatican tribunal to try bishops who ignore or cover up abuse. In November the Pope forbade the American bishops’ conference from holding a vote on the introduction of penalties for senior churchmen.
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