This week the eyes of the world are focused on Rome. An unprecedented number of journalists from all parts of the world have converged there as Pope Francis convenes a summit of leaders of the Episcopal Conferences from around the world. All kinds of experts and pundits on child abuse have converged as bishops and cardinals assemble for what will undoubtedly be an important moment in church history. Pope Francis will speak twice at the meeting giving both the opening and closing address. Among the other speakers are Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila in the Philippines, Cardinal Rubén Salazar Gómez of Bogotà in Colombia, Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai in India, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich in Germany, and Cardinal Blaise Cupich of Chicago – it could double as a list of possible future Popes when Pope Francis is called to God.
Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta is a leading expert in the field. At a press conference in Rome on Monday last, he stated that a primary aim of the meeting was to end the culture of denial that has dogged the whole issue, and to put an end to “complicity whether criminal or malicious, in all its forms.”
What goes without saying is that the time for words has passed, action is now demanded if the church is to retain some modicum of credibility. This has to include a genuine “zero tolerance” policy regarding the crime of the sexual abuse of a minor ie. permanent removal from ministry for even one substantiated accusation. This “zero tolerance” must also extend to the cover up of such crimes of abuse, this doesn’t mean the quiet stepping down of a bishop found guilty of such a cover up but the application of the same penalty as incurred by the abuser – removal from the clerical state.
It is clear that too many young lives have been blighted by the scourge of the sexual abuse of minors at the hands of those trusted as shepherds, this Roman meeting has to be a real turning point when a new mind-set puts the safety of children above all else, in a church where all clerical office is subservient to this primary consideration.
This meeting won’t be judged on the quality of its speakers or the voluminous handouts to the world media who have gathered, but rather by a much simpler yardstick – one given us by Jesus himself: “By their fruits you shall know them.” (Matthew 7:16)
Let’s invoke the Holy Spirit to guide and direct all who gather this week, so much depends on it. Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful.
Fr. Philip Curran