It’s hard to overstate the devastating consequences of the latest child sexual abuse scandal to rock the Catholic Church.
More than 1,000 youths were abused by over 300 priests in Pennsylvania, according to a grand jury report. Their childhood was stolen, their faith broken. The horrors went unpunished because the church covered up for criminals, as it has in too many instances for too many years. This fostered a toxic climate in which the assaults could continue.
Pope Francis on Monday acknowledged the church’s failure to deal with these crimes, the cover-up and its role in perpetuating the abuse.
“We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them,” Francis wrote in a 2,000-word letter addressed to the “People of God.”
The system is broken. So is the church’s trust with its people.
Closer to home, Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone addressed the issue Friday in a letter to South Carolina parishioners.
“Anger, shame, sorrow and grief – that is what I feel in the face of the sins committed by so many bishops and priests,” Bishop Guglielmone wrote. “I find it truly sickening and heartbreaking to know that children and adults have been betrayed and harmed by clergy and Church leaders whom they trusted. I join other bishops in apologizing for what we ‘have done and failed to do.’ This is a grave sin.”
Both statements contain strong condemnations and apologies, which are what you would expect. But the Vatican rightly has been criticized for failing to enact reforms quickly enough.
The church needs to spell out specific steps it is taking and will take to ensure these types of monstrous acts won’t happen again. There needs to be a full accounting of abuse in the church. There also must be more accountability of bishops and church hierarchy. Crimes must be reported to law enforcement, just as they would anywhere else.
Sexual abuse of children isn’t unique to the Catholic Church, of course. But the church’s outsize role, its status and its impact across the globe going back centuries make these and other instances of abuse a monumental betrayal.
Perhaps the grand jury report will be a turning point. Writing in the conservative National Catholic Register, Monsignor Charles Pope of Washington said he has “never seen people so serious and determined to take actions of their own.”
“As a Church hierarchy, we have worn on folks’ last nerve,” the monsignor said. “We have come to a point where only penance and a complete housecleaning can restore credibility and trust.”
The apologies and promises are welcome, but the words come far too late for the victims of sexual abuse. Monsignor Pope is correct: It’s time for meaningful reforms and cultural changes. And the people should demand them now.