An ill-judged photo overshadows a meeting between the Pope and US bishops

Last week may have been one of the toughest of Francis’s pontificate. A mere list of the stories that broke or saw major developments –­ most of them very bad ­– would run well over the allotted column space. The following is a recap of some of the bigger news items from last week.

There was an announcement from the “C9” Council of Cardinal Advisers of a planned gathering of the presidents of the world’s bishops’ conferences to discuss “the protection of minors” and “vulnerable adults”. That announcement met with scepticism when the council made it on Wednesday last week, owing to several factors.

The C9 is the Pope’s hand-picked “kitchen cabinet” of most trusted advisers. It is supposed to be leading the way in reform, but has faced a series of problems. Several members are fighting allegations of corruption, and by the council’s own admission it may not be up to the job: last week they announced that they were asking the Pope to review the C9’s lineup, “taking into account the advanced age of some of the members”.

Even the announcement of a bishops’ meeting suggested that the Church’s hierarchy is yet to grasp fully either the nature or the gravity of the crisis. Scheduled for February 21-24, the gathering is nearly half a year off. It does take time to organise an international meeting, but the delay suggests the Vatican has not understood the impatience among the worldwide body of the faithful. The men invited to participate in the meeting – the heads of roughly 130 bishops’ conferences – are not, broadly speaking, a group at present possessed of much credibility as leaders. In fact, this latest chapter in the Church’s protracted global crisis is precisely one of episcopal leadership.

The protection of minors – or of “minors” and “vulnerable adults” – is a necessary and indispensable part of the solution. (It’s worth noting that some of the Church’s leading child safety experts have said the term “vulnerable adult” does not necessarily encompass everyone vulnerable to predatory power, but is limited to people, who, though legal and physical adults, nevertheless daily face significant challenges to their self-sufficiency.) Nevertheless, the abuse of minors is only one part of the crisis – though a uniquely ghastly one – that has engulfed the Church. The core of the problem is the rot in clerical culture.

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