Last week, I noted that it was being reported that the Vatican is informing newly appointed bishops that they do not have an obligation to report sexual abuse of minors by priests to criminal officials. As I noted, reports were indicating that, in issuing such advice to new bishops, the Vatican was relying on a training manual by French priest Tony Anatrella. Anatrella is a well-known opponent of "gender theory" and of more affirming approaches to LGBT people, and he seems intent on continuing the scapegoating meme that seeks to make gay priests responsible for the abuse crisis.
A footnote to the preceding report: as Rosie Scammell notes for Religion News Service yesterday, the head of the papal commission on abuse, Cardinal Seán O'Malley, underscored in a statement on Monday that church officials do have an obligation to report clerical abuse of minors to the civil authorities. In a report for The Guardian yesterday, Stephanie Kirchgaessner puts this statement into the broader context of a rift within the Vatican's Curia about the handling of abuse cases.
A battle is being waged within the Vatican over how senior clergy ought to handle accusations of sexual abuse amid signs that a special commission created by Pope Francis to handle the issue is being sidelined by senior church officials in Rome.
The rift was exposed after a report in the Guardian about a training course that was offered to new bishops last year in which a controversial French monsignor instructed them that it was "not necessarily" their duty to report accusations of abuse to law enforcement authorities if local laws did not require it.
That stance was rejected this week by Pope Francis's point man on abuse issues, Boston cardinal Seán O'Malley, who heads a special pontifical commission to protect minors.
And she adds,
The Vatican has emphasised that Anatrella's involvement in the teaching of new bishops did not represent a departure on policy, and that Rome has said since 2011 that it was "important" to cooperate with civil authorities. But it still does not support across-the-board reporting of abuse in countries where such notification is not mandatory.
But for those within the Vatican who want to emphasize that top Catholic leaders are taking a serious, pro-active stance on dealing with abusive priests and hierarchical officials who cover up their abuse, the case of Cardinal George Pell keeps raising red flags. Though Pell claims that he has a longstanding heart condition that will not permit him to travel to Australia to testify before the Royal Commission on Abuse, the blog Broken Rites Australia has just reported that he made a secret trip to Australia in 2015.
And as a Reuters report today indicates, Australian abuse victims keep shining a spotlight on Pell's attempt to evade testimony before the Royal Commission: Reuters reports that Australian abuse victims are crowdfunding to raise money to permit fifteen abuse survivors to go to Rome and be present when Pell testifies there by video link before the Royal Commission. As Reuters notes,
"The survivors of Ballarat and District child abuse feel that a face-to-face hearing is important for healing and understanding" said the group’s crowd funding page.
"With the news that Cardinal Pell could not come here, it seems appropriate to get the survivors to Rome to sit in front of Pell as he gives evidence."
They do not want Pell to avoid looking them in the face when he testifies before the Australian abuse commission by video link.
Vatican journalist Robert Mickens has just published an essay about the Year of Mercy in which he argues that Catholic leaders and abuse survivors have both succeeded in creating a situation of muro contro muro in the abuse crisis in the Catholic church. The truculence (and outright deceit) of Catholic pastoral leaders faced with the responsibility to address the abuse crisis with transparency and accountability is matched by the stubbornness of survivors, Mickens suggests, and by the refusal of survivors to trust church officials as they deal with the abuse crisis.
Mickens calls on Pope Francis to break the stalemate by making himself vulnerable and meeting face-to-face with groups representing abuse victims, and without preconditions as he meets with them. This strikes me as a good suggestion, though I think the analysis of false equivalency on which it's based is not helpful.
If there's a standoff, a muro contro muro situation, in the Catholic church regarding the abuse situation, that standoff does not exist because abuse survivors have insisted on transparency and accountability on the part of Catholic officials. It exists primarily — overwhelmingly — because Catholic officials have refused to be transparent and accountable.
The behavior of the Curia in bringing in Tony Anatrella to train new bishops, with his ugly diversionary attempt to scapegoat gay priests as the cause of the abuse crisis, suggests that the refusal to be transparent and accountable continues. As does Cardinal Pell's attempt to evade testifying in person before the Royal Commission in Australia . . . .
As all of this takes place, it's rather difficult for me to imagine Pope Francis as an innocent, uninvolved bystander. He himself brought Pell to Rome, after all. As pope, he has considerable power to alter how the Curia deals with these matters, and to deal with Cardinal Pell.
As long as Francis appears to stand by while Tony Anatrella is brought to the Vatican to train new bishops, while outspoken survivors like Peter Saunders are removed from the papal abuse commission with reports that the commission is accomplishing nothing at all, and while Cardinal Pell makes secret trips back to Australia but claims he cannot appear before the Royal Commission to testify, many of us will conclude that Francis is part of the problem and not the solution. And I think we may be right in reaching such a conclusion.
The graphic appears at many online sites; I have not found a site that provides information about its origins.