Vatican summit mulls punishing bishops who fail to protect flock
VATICAN CITY — Cardinals attending Pope Francis’ summit on preventing clergy sex abuse called on Friday for a new culture of accountability in the Catholic Church to punish bishops and religious superiors when they fail to protect their flocks from predator priests.
On the second day of Pope Francis’ extraordinary gathering of Catholic leaders, the debate shifted to how Church leaders must acknowledge that decades of their own cover-ups, secrecy and fear of scandal had only worsened the sex abuse crisis.
“We must repent and do so together, collegially, because along the way we have failed,” said Mumbai Cardinal Oswald Gracias. “We need to seek pardon.”
Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich told the 190 bishops and religious superiors that new legal procedures were needed to both report and investigate Catholic superiors when they were accused of misconduct themselves or of negligence in handling other abuse cases.
Called to account by parents
He said lay experts must be involved at every step of the process, since rank-and-file Catholics often knew far better than priests what trauma the clergy sex abuse and its cover-up had caused.
“It is the witness of the laity, especially mothers and fathers with great love for the Church, who have pointed out movingly and forcefully how gravely incompatible the commission, cover-up and tolerance of clergy sexual abuse is with the very meaning and essence of the Church,” Cupich said.
“Mothers and fathers have called us to account, for they simply cannot comprehend how we as bishops and religious superiors have often been blinded to the scope and damage of sexual abuse of minors,” he said.
The Pope summoned the bishops for the four-day tutorial on preventing sex abuse and protecting children after the scandal erupted again last year in Chile and the United States. While the Vatican for two decades has tried to crack down on the abusers themselves, it has largely given a pass to the bishops and superiors who moved the predators around from parish to parish.
Cupich called for transparent new structures to report allegations against superiors, investigate them and establish clear procedures to remove them from office if they are guilty of grave negligence in handling abuse cases.
Third-party reporting system
He proposed that metropolitan bishops who were responsible for other bishops in their area should conduct the investigations into suspected abuse with the help of lay experts, then forward the results to the Vatican.
Cupich told reporters that his proposal differed from that proposed during the US Conference of Catholic Bishops at large held last year in that it was “anchored” in existing US Church structures for accountability and would therefore be obligatory for all bishops. The US conference proposal, which called for a code of conduct for bishops and a third-party confidential reporting system, would have been voluntary.
In addition, he said involving the regional metropolitan in the procedure would allow for pastoral follow-up to care for the victims.
More than 30 years after the scandal first erupted in Ireland and Australia, and 20 years after it hit the United States, bishops and Catholic officials in many parts of Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia still either deny that clergy sex abuse exists in their regions or play down the problem.
Pope Francis, the first Latin American pope, called the summit after he himself botched a well-known sex abuse cover-up case in Chile last year.
Tagle notes PH taboos
Gracias, the Indian cardinal, opened the session by saying bishops must work together to address the problem because it was erroneous to say “it’s just a problem for the USA or Europe or Australia.”
“This, brothers and sisters, is just not true. I dare say there are cases all over the world, also in Asia, also in Africa,” said Gracias who, critics said, is “a poster boy for the lack of accountability of Church leaders, especially in developing countries.”
But it appeared the Vatican may have chosen as speakers precisely those cardinals whose own national churches have not confronted the scandal openly. On the summit’s opening day, for example, the keynote speaker was Manila Archbishop Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle.
Based on public reporting and criminal prosecutions, BishopAccountability said it appeared that no priest had sexually abused children in the Philippines, a scenario that critics called patently unrealistic.
Tagle has said that cultural taboos in the Philippines often prevent victims from coming forward.
On the sidelines of the summit, victims have turned out in droves to demand greater accountability from the Church, saying it has for decades put its own interests over those of others who were harmed.
Irish Archbishop Eamon Martin said the summit had given many pause for thought as they realized that the way the Church had done things raised such questions as “who are we?”
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