Last week Pope Francis met the members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors for the first time since its foundation in 2014 and assured them that he was committed to “zero tolerance” of clerical abuse. This was heartening, because the past three years have shown just how difficult it is to combat paedophilia within an international community of more than a billion people.
For the past three years, the commission has toiled on the Vatican’s margins: underfunded, demoralised and frequently obstructed. Members, led by Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston, have shown great fortitude, even as they have lost both Peter Saunders and Marie Collins, the group’s sole abuse survivors.
One of the problems has been an internal Vatican struggle over which department should oversee abuse cases. In his speech, the Pope acknowledged a proposal to strip the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) of responsibility. The doctrinal congregation has handled such cases expertly, if not swiftly, since Cardinal Ratzinger intervened in the abuse crisis in 2001. Thankfully, Pope Francis said he had rejected the plan and the CDF would continue to oversee the Church’s response.
Francis also noted that the CDF section dealing with abuse is understaffed, meaning that cases are processed at a glacial rate. It is disturbing that this problem, known for years, has not been resolved. There must be experts who would willingly step in to tackle the backlog. And if money is the problem, there are surely wealthy Catholics who would pay for the clear-up. As long as cases are processed at a scandalously slow pace, assurances that the crisis is under control sound empty.
For the Vatican’s “zero tolerance” policy to be truly effective two things need to happen: demanding child protection measures must be applied consistently across the Catholic world; and Church leaders who fail to protect children ought to be punished.
The Vatican should require every bishops’ conference in the world to apply measures as strong as those in force in Britain and the United States. Yes, there are problems with introducing universal norms, especially where the Church is poor or persecuted, but let’s address these complexities later.
How to continue reading…
This article appears in the Catholic Herald magazine - to read it in full subscribe to our digital edition from just 30p a week
The Catholic Herald is your essential weekly guide to the Catholic world; latest news, incisive opinion, expert analysis and spiritual reflection