March 1, 2019

Ending the Catholic Abuse Crisis

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The big Catholic clergy abuse summit appears to have been little more than a publicity stunt. It seems designed to look like they are taking a serious problem seriously without having to do anything to solve it. The Pope has the opportunity to do something meaningful to end clergy abuse in the Catholic Church. So far, he has decided not to bother.

It seems to me that the solution to the problem of Catholic clergy raping children is fairly simple. It does require the Pope to change Church law, but most of the media coverage of this summit has made it clear that he has the authority to do so. So how could he solve the problem? What sort of changes to Church law would be needed here?

  1. Set a policy that any priest who abuses a child is removed from the priesthood.
  2. Set a policy that any member of the Church hierarchy who conceals clergy abuse is fired.
  3. Set a policy requiring all Church officials to fully cooperate with secular authorities involved in criminal investigations.
  4. Turn over all relevant records (that have not yet been destroyed) to secular authorities.

I'm not suggesting that taking these steps would bring an immediate and total end to the sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy. Sadly, this is a problem that appears to be widespread and ingrained in the institution. Still, I do believe that taking these steps would have a meaningful impact over time. By demonstrating a genuine commitment to accountability, the Church would significantly reduce the number of crimes perpetrated against children. And isn't that what matters? Isn't the goal of protecting children by preventing them from being raped far more important than the desire to protect the reputation of the Church through concealment and secrecy?

By focusing more on protecting their reputation than on preventing future victims, the Church is hastening its demise. As an atheist who opposes religion, I may welcome the demise of the Catholic Church. That does not mean I am willing to sacrifice more children to see it happen. This clergy abuse crisis needs to end. If ending it allows the Church to survive a bit longer, so be it.

Those of us who want to see an end to clergy abuse can try to pressure the Church, but it is not clear whether that will be effective. In the meantime, we will have to continue to urge the secular authorities to prosecute these cases whenever they can and help to publicize them when they do.