In his speech at the end of the four-day Vatican Summit, Pope Francis condemned clerical sexual abuse. He promised to confront abusers with “the wrath of God,” end cover-ups within the church, and make victims a priority. He also called the abuse involving children a “universal problem” present almost everywhere, with a vast majority of cases happening within the family. However, the Pope stopped short of proposing a concrete plan to stop the sexual abuse of children within the church. He didn’t talk about releasing files that document clergy abuse and related cover-ups, nor did he address plans for current and future accountability. Furthermore, Pope Francis failed to address whether a universal zero-tolerance approach would be adopted to ensure that clergy who commit or cover up abuse would be automatically ousted. What he did address was changing church law governing child pornography. He said all cases involving people under the age of 18, not just those under 14, would be investigated by the Vatican’s own Sex Crimes Unit. However, to date, the church has not proven that it can police itself.
Summit moderator and former Vatican spokesperson Fr. Federico Lombardi spoke after the Pope. He said that one of the first steps taken will be to send a handbook listing best practices to bishops around the world. According to Lombardi, the handbook will list a set of guidelines explaining how to investigate and prosecute abuse cases. However, the guidelines states: “Civil law concerning reporting of crimes to the appropriate authorities should always be followed.” The document also states that the Pope can intervene directly to defrock the worst offenders.
Who decides if an incident should be reported or not? Records have shown there are numerous cases that went unreported, where pedophile priests were sent to “treatment facilities” only to later be returned to ministry. Furthermore, while the Pope finally acted in the decades old McCarrick case, last year he defended a bishop accused of covering up allegations against a pedophile priest.
Will the summit make a difference? Do you think that the church has said all that is currently needed on the subject? Can we expect Pope Francis and the Vatican Sex Crimes Units to bring more clarity in speech or, better yet, action in the future? Or, is this only the next chapter of the exact same story? I have zero confidence that the Catholic Church can police itself. It has had decades to do just that and it has failed miserably. It has shamed the victims and protected the predators and it continues to do so. Until it adopts a zero-tolerance policy and begins to prosecutes every offender, I will remain skeptical. Why? Because actions speak louder than words. The Catholic Church has given victims absolutely no reason to trust its hierarchy.
Experienced attorney, lawsuit funding expert, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series. The series consists of "Betrayal of Faith", "Betrayal of Justice", and "Betrayal in Blue", with a fourth book due out in 2019. You can learn more about these topical political, legal thrillers at markmbello.com. Mark Bello is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.