Pope Francis apparently listened to the people he appointed to determine how the Vatican should proceed in cases of clergy abuse. In June of 2015 the Pope established a tribunal to hold bishops accountable for their handling of abusive priests.
I certainly would like to celebrate the forming of his tribunal, but I’ve held off. Too many times my hopes have been raised, only to be dashed by inaction. As I’ve said before, though I am always hopeful, I’m quite skeptical of the power of institutions to police themselves. Now three months have passed since the formation of the tribunal and not another peep about it has come out of the Vatican. What’s happening in there? Are the wheels of justice turning? Or is this just more of the same, couched in more dramatic rhetoric?
Changing a System as Big as The Catholic Church
To give credit to Pope Francis, I do remember that the pontiff and the Vatican are two separate things. One man, no matter how infallible and powerful, does not make the decision for the whole church. The Vatican is made up of Bishops – peers of those Francis seeks to try. Those men too must decide to listen to the advice of the experts. Then they too must choose to go beyond soothing words and take hard action.
Unfortunately tribunals can sometimes get in the way of real action, stalling, arguing, pontificating. Unless the new tribunal changes this practice of the fox guarding the hen house, the Church will never address the systemic illness of abuse. What I, most Catholics, and concerned parents, want is simple and shouldn’t be all that difficult. We want to see the crime of rape – whether of children in the church or women in the military – treated as a crime. Perpetrators must be turned over immediately to the judicial system. Leaders in both institutions have failed miserably at this. Their first priority remains the protection of the institution from scandal. When will they admit that ship has sailed? Everyone already know that bishops have been accomplices to these crimes against children. Now we want them to be subject to the judicial process as any other accomplice would be.
Church History Stands in the Way of Action
Never in the History of the Church has a Bishop been expelled, defrocked, imprisoned or otherwise held responsible for his complicity in sexual crimes. Here we are two-thirds of the way through the year 2015 and history is repeating itself.
When Francis and the Vatican join to remove the first Bishop who shuffled predator priests from parish to parish, allowing them to rape again and again, I will celebrate the forming of his tribunal with all my strength.
Until then all I can do is hope that maybe this time it will be different. Maybe this time Francis will show the world and guilty Bishops that he is in DEED, the head of his flock. He has the power to change things, if only he will ACT.
The church has started groups like this before, but nothing really significant has happened. Until an action is taken, until the first bishop is removed for protecting, sheltering or harboring these predator priests, until the Vatican takes real action on priest abuse, the pronouncements remain merely words.
Waiting for the pope’s move.