Opinion: Vatican’s reprimand falls disappointingly short

Yakima Herald-Republic [Yakima WA]

July 24, 2022

The Vatican’s belated and inadequate reprimand of now-retired Yakima Bishop Carlos Sevilla shows that some church leaders still struggle to grasp the seriousness and complexity of the problem of clergy sexual abuse.

It also shows that they feel little obligation to be transparent enough to reassure the community that local parishes are safe and that the church stands ready to hold clergy accountable for any misdeeds.

Even now.

Even after the church has had to answer for thousands of clergy around the world who’ve been plausibly accused of abusing young boys and girls over the years.

Even after the church has paid out millions to settle international claims made against clergymen by people who suffered life-scarring harm, intimidation and humiliation at the hands of the people they trusted more than anyone: their priests.

Even after stacks of disturbing reports of church leaders around the globe — including here — attempting to hide reports of abuse with secrecy or by quietly reassigning problem priests to other communities.

And even now, despite a recent Seattle Archdiocese investigation’s conclusion that he disregarded local whistleblowers who reported possible abuses, the former bishop of the Yakima Diocese gets no more than a rap across the knuckles.

What sort of message does that send parishioners who might be suffering abuse by a member of the clergy this very day? And how comfortable will anyone feel about stepping forward and alerting church leaders to future problems?

Granted, church initiatives launched since Sevilla’s time as bishop aim to better protect abuse victims. But how would a whistleblower in the diocese be received today?

Sure, Sevilla — now a bishop emeritus for the diocese — seems to be taking some responsibility for how he handled local abuse reports dating back to 2003. We’ll give him that.

“The investigation has concluded,” he told the YH-R in an email, “and I received a papal reproof. It means I made mistakes and could have done better. I accept that judgment.”

He still doesn’t seem to show much empathy for the victims of those mistakes, though. He’s praying for them, he said.

But not apologizing.

No, the overarching priority of everyone from Sevilla to the diocese to the Vatican still seems to be protecting the church itself. Preserving its authority, shielding it from liability and maintaining the stony hierarchy that has stood for centuries.

With typical secrecy, the church reportedly reprimanded Sevilla privately for causing “scandal or a grave disturbance of order” — no mention of the personal agony his decisions likely allowed.

That’s disappointing. And for some, devastating.

After following this story for two decades, our staff has heard heartbreaking accounts of young lives betrayed, whistleblower warnings going unheeded, church promises and safety directives being ignored or forgotten.

While we certainly don’t question anyone’s faith or deny the enormous amount of good the Catholic Church has done in this community and elsewhere, we do think it’s fair to question church leaders’ handling of Sevilla’s case. And we think it’s reasonable to expect them to answer those questions truthfully and openly.

But our faith in the church’s willingness to address this problem straightforwardly and compassionately is shaken.

Yakima Herald-Republic editorials reflect the collective opinion of the newspaper’s local editorial board.