July 11, 2018

Three things Pope Francis can do on clerical sexual abuse

By Christopher Altieri
Pope Francis. Credit: unsplash
Pope Francis. Credit: unsplash

If there is one thing news from around the world has proven over the course of the first half of 2018, it is that the crisis of clerical sexual abuse is persistent, deeply entrenched, and global in scope. Quick fixes are unacceptable. Leadership at every level must make hard decisions, and soon. The universal governance of the Church entrusted to the Roman Pontiff must lead the way.

While Pope Francis considers the steps to take in Chile and elsewhere, there are things he can do as pastor of the Church in practical expression of his stated conviction that every member of the body of Christ must be a part of the solution. Here are three specific steps he can take:

--Order every diocesan bishop to offer two public Masses each month, one in suffrage for the souls of suicides as a result of abuse, and one of general reparation for abuse.

--Order local ordinaries to dedicate one oratory to permanent reparation, where once a month, public acts before the Blessed Sacrament are to be made for the sins of abuser clerics. He should offer plenary indulgence under the usual conditions for laity who participate.

--Offer plenary indulgence under the usual conditions to every cleric who, publicly or privately, leads the faithful in acts of reparation for the sins committed by Church leaders.

Truth be told, there is no good reason local ordinaries ought not implement these steps on their own authority, and petition Rome for indulgence of the practices.

Some bishops may be concerned with the legal ramifications of instituting such practices on their own. It is not impossible that diocesan legal counsel should warn them off such measures, insofar as plaintiffs could argue that courts would view their implementation as admission of guilt. That is speculation, but such a court fight as might ensue would be worth having – and even losing – if it should come.

If Francis ordered ordinaries to take the steps, it would arguably provide them at least some cover.

The plain fact of the matter is that the crisis of clerical sexual abuse is the worst to hit the Church at least since the time of Martin Luther – and it may prove to be worse. It is, moreover, a crisis almost entirely of the bishops’ own making. There are no quick fixes to it. The necessary repair and renewal of clerical culture cannot succeed without the full participation of the laity, while at least a generation must pass before the healing of the wounds already inflicted can begin to heal properly. Resolution of the crisis will require out-of-the-box thinking when it comes to Church governance, and hard choices, the pain of which Catholics in every state of life in the Church must feel to the core.

If we are to bear even some small portion of the suffering for the victims and share the burden of repair in our souls, we cannot postpone recovery of a sense of shared responsibility.  

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.