Who Can Properly Investigate the Catholic Church's Sex Abuse Crisis?
By Matt C. Abbott
September 4, 2018
In recent weeks , there's been considerable coverage and chatter in the mainstream media, on social media, and in the Catholic blogosphere on the fallout over the Pennsylvania grand jury report, not to mention the Pope Francis versus Archbishop Vigano controversy, which has basically developed into a full-blown Catholic civil war. Sides are being taken by those who have strong feelings on the latest crisis in the Church.
For better or worse (probably more the latter), many Catholics aren't too interested in what's happening in the Church. We just have to let them be. Hopefully, at least some will soon wake up and see that we're in the midst of profound spiritual warfare. On the other hand, if they're indeed striving to live as faithful Catholics while paying little to no attention to the news, I certainly can't be critical of them.
But back to the crisis at hand.
Joseph Shaw makes an excellent observation in a Sept. 1 blog post:
In the current phase of the Church's crisis, we are focusing as much or more on the enablers of abuse, than on the abusers themselves. It is time we thought about them, because it removes the comforting impression that a 'few bad apples' could be ejected from the priesthood and all would be well. As is sometimes pointed out, perhaps 4% of priests were sex abusers. The problem is the general ethos and culture which enabled them to carry on their abuse, and the superiors systematically protected the abusers.
Never mind the 4% of priests: it is the 60% or 80% or more of bishops and religious superiors who harbored sexual predators and provided them with fresh opportunities for abuse. It may be that most of the priest-abusers have died or been laicized by now, but their hierarchical enablers, few of whom had to face up to their crimes when the clerical abuse became a big story in 2002, have continued to flourish. This is an indication that, even if stricter reporting procedures have had a restraining effect on sexual predation by priests since 2002, the ethos and culture which made the abuse possible is still largely intact.
Bingo. I really don't want to hear the "few bad apples" argument from anyone at this point. We're way, way beyond that stage.
Without getting into all the particulars of the Vigano letter – there are several Catholic websites that have been covering its various allegations in detail – I'll say a thorough investigation is warranted. The problem is, who can be trusted to conduct an investigation of this nature? Ideally, it would be conducted by members of the clergy and laity – on both the left and the right, so to speak.
This would amount to a committee comprising several conservative (I much prefer the term "orthodox" or "traditional") members of the clergy and laity, and several liberal members of the clergy and laity, who would, as much as possible, set aside their moral and theological differences to investigate all the allegations contained in the Vigano report. This includes any allegations of scandalous activity during the last two pontificates. A conclusion, or series of conclusions, would then have to be reached.
The challenge of this scenario is choosing the members of the committee. It would be a difficult task, yes, but I think it could be done. The Vatican would have to a play a role in the selection of the committee, but otherwise, Church officials could not interfere with the investigation. Other details would have to be worked out, and a time limit would have to be put in place so the investigation doesn't go on indefinitely. (Sound familiar?)
Do I believe that this scenario will occur? No, probably not. There are too many people who, for various reasons, don't want the full truth known. Those of us who truly care about the Church do want the truth known. And because we're dealing with a significant aspect of the clergy abuse scandal, I believe there are liberal Catholics who also want the truth known. Will it end all differences between conservative and liberal Catholics? Of course not. But perhaps we would see at least some healing and mutual respect.
An investigation conducted only by conservative Catholics or liberal Catholics won't accomplish much. The other side would be highly skeptical of the findings, and media bias has to be taken into account. In fact, I don't know who will conduct the investigation, if there ever is one. There aren't many prelates I trust. Also, the pope doesn't have to act in response to any investigation unless he chooses to do so. He answers only to God.
There's no indication that Pope Francis wants to investigate the allegations contained in the Vigano letter. He doesn't even want to discuss them. He wants to remain silent – on this matter, at least.
One more troubling aspect to this disaster of a pontificate.