Can the Catholic Church find redemption?
100 senior bishops meet this week to address clerical sexual abuse, ‘the most serious crisis since the Reformation’
More than 100 senior Catholic bishops will gather in Rome this week to address clerical sexual abuse, an issue which threatens to fatally undermine the church’s authority and overshadow the reforming papacy of Pope Francis.
Amid accusations he has failed to grasp the seriousness of the problem or done enough to tackle it during his time as head of the Vatican, the pontiff has called the high-level summit and will deliver its closing speech.
Bishops have been urged to meet with survivors in their respective countries before heading to Rome, the first meeting of its kind, where they will also hear first-hand testimonies from victims.
Francis has sought to downplay expectations, however, even as “survivors and advocacy groups say it must deliver clear outcomes if it is to begin to restore the church’s damaged credibility on the issue and avoid being seen as a talking shop”, says The Guardian.
Massimo Faggioli, a church historian and professor of theology, told the paper the issue was being used to “radically delegitimise” Francis’s papacy and that it represented “the most serious crisis in the Catholic church since the Protestant Reformation”.
Time magazine says Francis was himself “implicated in the cover-up of Theodore McCarrick, the onetime powerful American cardinal who just last week was defrocked for sexually abusing minors as well as adults”.
Asked by America Magazine about the possibility some in the church and on the political right may be using the abuse question to attack the Pope’s leadership, Boston-based Cardinal Blaise Cupich said: “It is not a question of what is at stake for the pontificate of Pope Francis, but what is at stake for the church.”
Since the first reports emerged nearly two decades ago, the Church has faced repeated accusations it covered up the sexual abuse of children by priests on a mass scale.
Over the past few years, it has faced a fresh wave of scandals involving high-ranking officials stretching from the Americas to Europe and Australia, with attention increasingly turning to the global south, where the Catholicism has continued to grow rapidly.
“Several cases of sexual abuse in the church have come to light from across India,” says First Post. There the approach of the Roman Catholic Church “seems to be tokenism, making the right noises publicly, while attempting to silence and intimidate the faithful in private”, says the news site.
Other reports, including an investigation by Associated Press, have uncovered decades-long sexual abuse faced by nuns, and the unending backlash if they try to fight off advances or complain.
While the “unprecedented” four-day summit in Rome has been welcomed by campaigners and survivors, “some experts have questioned why it has taken so long to get to this point”, says Canada’s Global News.
Other critics have said it is “too little too late”.
“The fact that this still exists in 2019, that there is still awareness-raising that has to be done (among bishops) is a measure of what a low priority this has truly been for the Vatican,” said Anne Barrett-Doyle of the US-based abuse tracking group bishopaccountability.org.
“I hope [Pope Francis] has the candor to admit that it’s absolutely disgraceful that that’s where we are today,” she said in an interview in St Peter’s Square.