The Catholic Church is still reeling from the release of a report documenting acts of child sexual abuse by hundreds of priests in six Pennsylvania dioceses.
This morning, in a letter directed to Catholics around the world, Pope Francis said the Church must “condemn these atrocities.” He acknowledged how the Church “showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them.”
That’s all well and good — he expressed deep remorse for the victims — but the real questions are what the Vatican plans to do to prevent future crimes and how they’ll punish those responsible for committing and covering up the abuse.
Instead of actually offering any solutions, though, the pope called for fasting and prayer.
… penance and prayer will help us to open our eyes and our hearts to other people’s sufferings and to overcome the thirst for power and possessions that are so often the root of those evils. May fasting and prayer open our ears to the hushed pain felt by children, young people and the disabled. A fasting that can make us hunger and thirst for justice and impel us to walk in the truth, supporting all the judicial measures that may be necessary. A fasting that shakes us up and leads us to be committed in truth and charity with all men and women of good will, and with society in general, to combatting all forms of the abuse of power, sexual abuse and the abuse of conscience.
Pope Francis said there were efforts underway to do something but they haven’t been implemented just yet.
I am conscious of the effort and work being carried out in various parts of the world to come up with the necessary means to ensure the safety and protection of the integrity of children and of vulnerable adults, as well as implementing zero tolerance and ways of making all those who perpetrate or cover up these crimes accountable. We have delayed in applying these actions and sanctions that are so necessary, yet I am confident that they will help to guarantee a greater culture of care in the present and future.
As we know all too well, don’t give religious organizations credit for saying they’ll do something until they actually do it. The details matter here. This scandal has been occurring for several decades, and the public has been aware of the extent of these abuses for more than 15 years. Yet the Church still hasn’t figured out how to hold priests accountable? What exactly are they still trying to figure out? And why isn’t it the only thing they’re working on at this point?
In case you’re wondering, nothing in the letter suggests any flexibility when it comes to celibacy, or the marriage ban, or the bizarre belief that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered” forcing some priests to suppress or be secretive about their desires. That’s not surprising. It’s not like the Church can be expected to budge on what makes it unique. But while abuse occurs even when these rules aren’t in place, they would go a long way toward giving priests a safe, healthy outlet for their human needs. The arbitrary faith-based rules haven’t helped.
The pope’s letter is a distraction. A way to pretend the Vatican cares without detailing how they will actually protect victims over priests. It’s another victory for the PR Pope but there’s absolutely nothing in here that should encourage doubting Catholics that everything will work out.
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