Friday, December 6, 2013

Papal Commission on Sexual Abuse Crisis Announced; Survivors Respond

The Vatican announced yesterday that Pope Francis has set up a papal commission to advise him about dealing with the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic church. As Elisabetta Povoledo, Alan Cowell, and Rick Gladstone report for New York Times, this is the first concrete step Pope Francis has taken to address the abuse crisis, and the announcement comes two days after a United Nations panel resoundingly criticized the Catholic church for its mishandling of abuse cases.

For National Catholic Reporter, Joshua McElwee notes that the U.N. panel specifically objected to the Vatican's refusal to provide the panel with information about how the church deals with abuse cases. McElwee also indicates that in making the announcement about the new papal advisory commission, Cardinal Sean O'Malley stated that the panel will stress the need for pastoral engagement of those abused by priests as minors.

Responses to the announcement from survivors of abuse and groups supporting abuse survivors:

For Bishop Accountability, Anne Barrett Doyle writes cautiously welcomes Cardinal O'Malley's announcement in Rome today that the Vatican will form an advisory commission on the sex abuse of minors in the Church. It's good that the Vatican will be giving this terrible problem focused attention. But we are concerned that the commission will be toothless and off-target. Cardinal O'Malley's list of its possible "lines of action" has two crucial omissions. There is no indication that the commission will study either the Vatican's culpability or the crucial need to discipline bishops, religious superiors and other church supervisors who enable child rape and molestation. 

For Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, Barbara Blaine states that though Francis has been a breath of fresh air to many people, he remains a breath of stale air to wounded victims, vulnerable children, and betrayed Catholics--and:

What’s needed is the ending of talk and the beginning of action. What helps kids is action, not information, especially when the Catholic hierarchy already has massive amounts of information on who in its ranks has committed and who is concealing heinous sexual violence across the globe.

For National Survivor Advocates Coalition, Kris Ward asks some blunt questions about image and substance:

Why announce a commission without details, membership, timetable if getting out the news that yet another public relations attempt isn’t the crux of the activity? 
Headline puffery or solid rock honest to God reform through responsibility? It’s up to the Vatican.

It's a sign of growing vitality in the Catholic church that people are talking now--from all sides, about everything. It's a sign of growing vitality that people are talking back. If Francis has opened any door at all so far, he's opened a door to increased conversation within the Catholic church.

He has Catholics talking. He has the media talking. He has the world talking.

And among the voices that most desperately need to be heard by those running the Catholic show are the voices of those who endured sexual abuse by Catholic religious authority figures as young folks. As Bishop Geoffrey Robinson has insisted for years now, the path to healing of the entire institution lies with abuse survivors and what they have to tell the church. 

A papal advisory commission that does not include survivors and hear their voices will be an empty show. One that engages in talk and more diversionary talk and does not take action will simply deepen the problem.

As Kris Ward notes, any time Pope Francis really wants to begin addressing the sexual abuse crisis through action and not more talk, he can deal with the bishop of Kansas City, Robert Finn, who still sits on his episcopal throne despite having been convicted of criminal child endangerment because of his protection of a pedophile priest. It would mean a great deal if the pope removed Finn from office, as many American Catholics have asked church officials to do.

The graphic: a photograph by Stefan Wermuth of photos of sexual abuse victims placed outside the Vatican Embassy in London in September 2010, from Reuters.

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