It appears that one of my predictions about sexual abuse within the Catholic Church came true. I stated years ago that victims of clergy abuse usually take 15 to 20 years to come forward. I based this on the date ranges for the abuse as victims came forward. Those who came forward during the 1990s reported that the abuse occurred in the 1970s and early 1980s. Those who came forward during the early 2000s reported abuse from the 1980s an early 1990s.
While the Catholic Church tried to address the hundreds of thousands of accusations, they were adamant that the abuse was essentially over. Their position was that the rampant abuse of the 1960s and 1970s stemmed from the sexual revolution.
I did not believe this. My assumption was that victims of more recent abuse would simply hold to the same pattern as older victims. It would take those people at least 10 years, if not 20, before coming forward, and this was despite the greater news coverage and social concern.
A recent article appears to confirm my suspicion:
With revelation after revelation, a new wave of sexual abuse scandals is rocking the Roman Catholic Church and presenting Pope Francis with the greatest crisis of his papacy.
In Chile, prosecutors have raided church offices, seized documents and accused leaders of a coverup. In Australia, top church figures are facing detention and trials. And in the United States, after the resignation of a cardinal, questions are swirling about a hierarchy that looked the other way and protected him for years.
The church has had more than three decades — since notable abuse cases first became public — to safeguard victims, and itself, against such system failures. And, in the past five years, many Catholics have looked to Francis as a figure who could modernize the church and help it regain its credibility.
But Francis’s track record in handling abuse is mixed, something some outsiders attribute to his learning curve or shortcomings and others chalk up to resistance from a notoriously change-averse institution.
The track record mentioned here is that Francis recently stated that he was convinced a Chilean bishop accused of protecting an abusive priest was innocent. The Pope eventually invited the victims to Rome, and later called of Chile’s bishops to the Vatican for failing to properly address the accusations.
The problem is that there does not appear to be any real punishment for those who abuse children or those who cover up the abuse. According to the article:
Whereas transparency is typically advised, the church remains quiet about its investigations and disciplinary procedures. It does not release any data on the inquiries it has carried out. A proposed tribunal for judging bishops accused of negligence or coverup was quashed by the Vatican department that was supposed to help implement it. And, rather than being fired and publicly admonished, offending church leaders are typically allowed to resign without explanation.
“The church doesn’t like removing bishops,” said the Rev. Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest and a senior analyst at the Religion News Service. “Bishops are vicars of Christ in their diocese. They’re not just McDonald’s franchise owners or local managers that can be fired by the CEO. And the church has always been reluctant to give in to political pressure to remove them.”
That protection is one of the reasons the abuse continues. It makes no sense that anyone in a position of power should be allowed to abuse it in this fashion without punishment. One would think that with great power comes great responsibility and culpability. Instead, it appears that it comes only with a great reprimand should anything go public.
More troubling is that the Catholic Church appears largely immune from civil repercussions as well. Even though many law enforcement agencies will investigate cases, there are not many instances of those who covered up the abuse facing charges, let alone jail time. This is yet another instance in which the Vatican’s power protects the abusers and their enablers. The Catholic Church is so entrenched in some countries that idea of challenging them is verboten. Even in the United States, where the Vatican’s power is somewhat curbed, there are still few instances of the powers that be facing criminal charges for hiding child rape.
The result is that this leaves the Vatican to handle the allegations, and as the article notes, the Vatican has not done a good job:
In 2015, Francis approved its proposal of a tribunal, placed within the Vatican’s powerful doctrine office, that would assess cases of bishops accused of concealing or neglecting abuse. The tribunal, though, was never created. Four former members of the commission, as well as outside analysts, say the idea was thwarted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Some outside analysts say the objection could have been on legal or logistical grounds.
In an interview published last year with the Corriere della Sera, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, then the head of the doctrine office, said the Vatican already had the “tools and legal means” to handle cases. Vatican watcher Marco Politi said congregation members and others in the Vatican hierarchy were also concerned about opening a “Pandora’s box.”
“This would mean hundreds of cases that would then bounce back to Rome with a huge media impact,” said Politi, author “Pope Francis Among the Wolves,” a papal biography. “It would signify the beginning of hunting season on culprits.”
In turn, Francis used another method to bolster accountability of the church hierarchy, issuing an apostolic letter that made it clear that bishops could be removed from office for negligently handling sexual abuse. But under the current system, any of five different Vatican congregations can be involved in investigating bishops, depending on the accused person’s role and affiliation within the church, and also on whether he has been accused of coverup or abuse. Coverup cases are handled by the same congregations that help to appoint bishops.
“It’s a potential conflict of interest,” said Davide Cito, a canon lawyer at Rome’s Pontifical University of the Holy Cross. “That’s absolutely an issue.”
One would think the conflict of interest would be the Church’s supposed obligation to protect its “flock” and that many of its “shepherds” repeatedly feast upon said “flock.” Instead, the Vatican mires itself in bureaucratic nonsense.
All this results in is more victims of abuse, many of whom will not come forward for years. After nearly two decades of continuous news coverage of the sex abuse within the Church, perhaps it is time for the Church to change its methods of dealing with this issue.