The Pope's test
Finally, the Vatican has spoken up. It broke its silence about a Pennsylvania grand jury report that detailed decades of sexual abuses by priests and cover-ups by bishops, calling the accusations "criminal and morally reprehensible." Regarding the report made public in Pennsylvania this week, there are two words that can express the feelings faced with these horrible crimes: shame and sorrow. "The Holy See treats with great seriousness the work of the Investigating Grand Jury of Pennsylvania and the lengthy Interim Report it has produced. The Holy See condemns unequivocally the sexual abuse of minors, "a senior spokesman said.
This was only to be expected. Pope Francis had been under increasing pressure to address a rapidly escalating sexual abuse crisis that has spread across several continents, from Australia to Latin America. The crisis presents a crucial test for Francis' papacy, which has stumbled badly at times to address sexual abuse among clergy. Some Catholics are worried that the Pope's ability to serve as a moral witness for the world could be compromised should he fail to act decisively. "The clock is ticking for all of us in Church leadership," said a Cardinal, the Pope's top adviser on sexual abuse. "Catholics have lost patience with us and civil society has lost confidence in us." The Vatican's comments came 48 hours after the Pennsylvania report was released. The report showed that more than 300 "predator priests" have been credibly accused of sexually abusing more than 1,000 child victims. As the grand jurors note, priests and other Catholic leaders victimized boys and girls, teens and pre-pubescent children. But almost every instance of abuse was found is too old to be prosecuted. The Church must learn hard lessons from its past and there should be accountability for both abusers and those who permitted abuse to occur. Interestingly, most of the abuse accusations detailed in the grand jury's report occurred before 2002, when the US Catholic bishops adopted new policies designed to inform law enforcement of accusations and quickly remove accused clergy from office. By finding almost no cases after 2002, the Grand Jury's conclusions are consistent with previous studies showing that Catholic Church reforms in the United States drastically reduced the incidence of clergy child abuse. True, the Vatican encourages continued reform and vigilance at all levels of the Catholic Church, to help ensure the protection of minors and vulnerable adults from harm. But there seems to be little agreement among Catholic leaders about what that might mean. Sans doubt, there is the failure of episcopal leadership. If anything, this is a moral catastrophe and so many faithful priests who are pursuing holiness and serving with integrity are tainted by this failure.