Francis has also begun taking bishops to task. After an investigation by Monsignor Scicluna found “a culture of abuse” in Chile, the entire bishops’ conference of that country came to the Vatican to tender their resignations. Francis accepted those of at least seven bishops.
In 2002, after the abuse scandal erupted in Boston, U.S. bishops adopted the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which requires a diocese to report allegations of a crime to civil authorities and includes a one-strike-you’re-out policy, in which priests are removed from the ministry if they are found to have harmed minors. Vatican officials have argued that this policy can’t be applied universally, since clerics would be put at risk in authoritarian regimes or places where the clergy are targets of killings.
For now, the rhetoric has focused more on calling attention to the crisis. With the meeting this week, “the Holy Father wants to make very clear to the bishops around the world … that each one of them has to claim responsibility and ownership for this problem,” Cardinal Cupich said. He added that there would be an effort “to close whatever loopholes” exist so that bishops understand their duties, and that genuine progress would be required of them.
But some abuse victims say the structure of the Church isn’t so much the problem; the mentality is. “These are crimes, not sins,” said Barbara Dorris, a victim of clerical sexual abuse who is now an activist with Voices of Faith, a group that seeks to have a greater role for women inside the Catholic Church. “They already have a structure. Church officials need to be held accountable to the same standards everyone else is.”
Does the Vatican Hierarchy Understand What’s at Stake?
Yes and no. The Vatican is a hermetic world, the ultimate realm of power politics, dominated by Italians who have been reluctant to see this problem as a global crisis rather than as a scandal to be kept quiet and handled internally, if at all.
Ahead of this week’s meeting, it created a website that brings together Church documents on the issue of abuse, including statements and papal teachings, as well as relevant passages in canon law. It’s the first time the Vatican has ever endeavored to compile all the material in one place.
But there are words, and there are actions. In 2017, Marie Collins, an Irish survivor of sexual abuse, resigned in frustration from the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, which the pope established in 2015, to protest that Francis had rejected the commission’s recommendation to create a tribunal for bishops inside the Vatican. “As long as an obsession with secrecy and protection of reputation remains at the core of the Church in those who have the means to make the necessary changes, it will not happen,” Collins wrote me in an email.