I highly recommend Father Tom Doyle's recent presentation (pdf) to the group Voice of the Faithful regarding where we find ourselves with the abuse crisis in the Catholic church today. It's entitled "Clergy Sexual Abuse and the Church Today: Turning Talk into Action." Doyle's assessment of where we find ourselves is sobering (and, for my money, right on target):
There are no clear signs of hope that the institutional Church is beginning to comprehend the horrendous nature of sexual abuse by clerics. There has been a great deal of rhetoric and public relations bluster but there is little if anything to show sincerity. To date no bishop has been subjected to any penal process or penal sanctions for sexually abusing minors or adults himself or for their failure to remove known perpetrators.
There's lots of talk. There's not any action to speak of. Convicted criminal Bishop Robert Finn continues to sit undisturbed on his episcopal throne in Kansas City, and, as Tom Doyle notes, bishops keep right on playing cruel hardball games with abuse survivors, forfeiting pastoral imperatives to do instead what lawyers dictate to them, withholding information about abusive priests, putting known predators into ministry, and letting the odious Bill Donohue function freely as their vicious media attack dog.
Tom Doyle does not find a great deal of hope in the appointment of the new eight-member papal advisory commission on abuse, because, well, our popes have long since been advised. They know the score. They know what to do.
The problem is and has been doing, not talking.
What we lay Catholics have learned — and painfully so —through the abuse crisis is the following lesson, Tom Doyle insists:
Perhaps the most far-reaching conclusion one can draw is that there is a sharp division between the institutional Church and the Body of Christ and that the institutional Church is essentially atheist judging by its choice to protect its worldly image, prosperity and power rather than respond to the victims with immediate care and concern.
And, if Tom Doyle is correct with the preceding observations, then how to assess Pope Francis's "apology" for the abuse crisis last week? As Jerry Slevin notes at his Christian Catholicism site, set Francis's statement beside Tom Doyle's presentation, and one can only conclude, sadly, that Francis is continuing with the stonewalling. He's continuing with the words.
Since nothing in the words he has spoken so far about the abuse crisis in any way touches the heart of the matter: namely, that bishops continue with impunity to hide and reassign priests abusing minors; bishops continue to throw their pastoral charge to the wind and let lawyers make their decisions for them; bishops continue to play hardball legal games with abuse survivors; and the members of the new papal advisory commission have long known that all of this is happening, have decried it, but nothing at all has happened at the level of the Vatican to address any of it.
Words continue to pour forth. Actions remain non-existent.
As Jerry Slevin notes,
Instead of really facing the abuse problem, Pope Francis instead usually just tries to change the subject, for example, by more mystical propaganda ploys like the upcoming canonizations of Popes John Paul II and John XXIII. Of course, neither of their abysmal records on holding bishops, or even priests, accountable for abusing children has even been addressed in the "rush to sainthood". How long does Francis think he can go on trying to change the subject? Although many Catholics sometimes appear to be overly docile and wishful thinkers, most of them are not that naïve, as the 30 plus million US Catholics who have left the Church appear to indicate.
Meanwhile, we're preparing now for a big canonization blow-out in Rome, and the question many of us are surely asking as that event nears is, How on earth will it in any way address the abuse crisis in our church. Effectively?
In a way that goes beyond splashy shows and insincere words to actions . . . .