Church Reform Is Coming Agonizingly Slowly
By Peterborough Examiner
January 4, 2018
I once again take up the topic of reform in the Catholic church, because I'm a kind of an insider/outsider, a Pope-watcher, and an analyst who knows the immense power and global reach of this church. And the sad effects of its mistaken teachings and practices.
There were two items in recent news: one the death of American Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, age 86, who, after being indicted on charges related to his cover-up of clergy sex abuse against children, fled to Rome in 2002 and was put in charge of a major church. Remember the courageous journalism of the Boston Globe and the subsequent film Spotlight.
Here is what Canadian politician Charlie Angus, NDP MP from Cobalt, had to say in an anguished post:
"I learned my lessons in faith and justice in the church. I remember pastors organizing over the grape boycott for farmworkers. I was working at a Catholic Worker house when the sexual abuse scandals first came to light. They were stunning revelations, but even more stunning was to see powerful men who were supposed to follow the words of Jesus suppress, cover-up and protect serial predators. Cardinal Law was eventually brought down by a grand jury indictment, but protected by Pope John Paul II. He was a disgrace to everything Jesus stood for. Good riddance."
In Canada, we had our own searing scandal at Mount Cashel orphanage in Newfoundland 40 years ago, where 300 young persons alleged physical and sexual abuse by the Christian Brothers, cover-up by churchmen and police collusion.
The Newfoundland government ordered an inquiry and the report in 1992 by former Lt.-Gov. Gordon Winter caused the Archbishop, Alphonsus Penney to resign, the orphanage to be closed and razed, some priests to go to jail and the churches largely to be emptied.
The second item has just been a bombshell of a report from Australia on sex abuse of children, years after the Canadian report. It is a mind-boggling 17 volumes, the result of a five-year study undertaken when Julia Gillard was Prime Minister.
Australia has 25 million people, of whom 5 million are Catholic. Catholic personnel, mostly priests and brothers, have been found responsible for 62 per cent of the 4,444 cases of child sex abuse committed in the years 1950-2009. The report described Church behaviour as a "catastrophic failure of leadership."
Among its 400 recommendations are ones asking the church to change its requirement for clerical celibacy, and another asking for relaxation of the confessional seal of secrecy where incidents of children and abuse are involved. Fairly radical, but they seem to me reasonable.
In Rome? The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Children has just lost a woman member, Marie Collins, a survivor from Ireland, who resigned and said the Vatican has not put in the resources needed to enforce policies. "I have watched events unfold with dismay," she said. "There are still men In Vatican who resist work to help children."
Pope Francis strives mightily to change the culture and to institute reform. He is undermined by several curial members.
Still and all, with whatever personnel, the structures of the church endure, and are at the root. The exclusion of women from all offices of the Catholic church, the grip of conservative elderly celibate men, and a backward sexual ethic which will not even withdraw the ban on contraception, leave one doubtful about the future of the institution.
The website for the Peterborough Catholic diocese says in a 17-page policy called Clergy Abuse Reporting Guidelines, adopted in 2011, that no child is to be alone with a priest, and preparation for childhood sacraments must be done in a group setting.
It makes woeful reading for the New Year. But now it is open and out there, and provides data for the faithful to use as they lobby for major changes.
Rosemary Ganley is a local writer, activist and teacher. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org