(RNS) Pope Francis is creating a special commission to deal with the clergy sexual abuse crisis on a global scale, a step that comes amid growing criticism that Francis had not given sufficient attention to the scandal.

sean o'malley

Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley celebrates Sunday Mass with other American cardinals at the Pontifical North American College March 3, 2013. Photo by Gregory L. Tracy/The Pilot


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Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley made the announcement on Thursday (Dec. 5) in the Vatican where he was meeting this week with Francis and the other members of the so-called “Gang of Eight” cardinals that the pope chose to help him reform the Roman Curia.

O’Malley, who is the U.S. bishop with perhaps the most credibility on the abuse issue, listed a range of programmatic ideas for the commission, whose members are expected to include lay people, mental health professionals and other experts in the field as well as leading churchmen.

But O’Malley acknowledged that Catholics were most keen to hear how and whether the pope and the new commission would tackle the question of disciplining bishops who have shielded abusive priests.

“Quite frankly that’s something that the church needs to address,” O’Malley said, noting that he wasn’t sure whether the commission, the Congregation for Bishops or the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — the Vatican department that has been handling most abuse cases — would take the lead on rogue bishops.

Several current cases in the U.S. have rekindled anger over the abuse crisis: last year in Missouri, Bishop Robert Finn was convicted in court of failing to report an abusive priest to authorities, and in Minnesota it was recently revealed that Archbishop John Nienstedt did not report priests suspected of abuse to authorities. Archbishop John Myers of Newark, N.J., has faced similar criticism for his handling of abusers. All three men are outspoken conservatives, and all three remain in office.

Soon after Francis’ election in March, seven in 10 U.S. Catholics told the Pew Research Center that addressing the abuse crisis should be his top priority.

But even as the pope has been working behind the scenes to create new policies to fight abuse — as well as tackling myriad other challenges — he has faced increasing criticism for not speaking out as strongly or acting as pastorally on this topic as he has on other issues.

Victims advocates in the U.S. said Thursday that this latest action was not nearly enough to address their concerns.

“Another commission surveying bishops and recommending policies is meaningless. It’s like offering a band aid to an advanced cancer patient,” said David Clohessy, director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “Only decisive action helps, not more studies and committees and promises.”

Anne Barrett Doyle of BishopAccountability.org “cautiously” welcomed the announcement but also feared it will be largely “toothless and off-target” because it does not provide a clear avenue for firing bishops.

The Vatican statement on the new commission set out a number of tasks for the group, many of which focused on trying to bring some uniformity to policies and approaches — or the lack thereof — that vary enormously from country to country.

While much of the focus on the abuse scandal has been centered in the U.S., the American bishops have also instituted better policies and safeguards than other countries, and those efforts could serve as something of a template for the commission’s work.

The commission’s to-do list will include: setting standards on reporting crimes to civil authorities; screening candidates for the priesthood and ministry; educating church workers about abuse and establishing rules for dealing with allegations; pastoral care for victims and their families; communicating news of abuse to the community; and the “supervision and rehabilitation of clergy guilty of abuse.”

But O’Malley told reporters that a central goal of the commission would be to expand the Vatican’s role beyond one of judging cases and setting rules to including pastoral efforts as well.

“Up to now, there’s been so much focus on the judicial parts of this. But the pastoral response of the church is very, very important, and the Holy Father is concerned about that,” O’Malley said.

“And so we feel as though having the advantage of a commission of experts that would be able to study some of these issues and bring concrete recommendations for the Holy Father and the Holy See will be very important,” he said.

The Vatican said that the pope would soon issue a document naming the members of the commission and specifying its duties.

“The Holy See will try and help to identify best practices,” O’Malley said. “Certainly we hope that the Holy See will be able to model what those best practices are as a way of helping other dioceses and bishops conferences to have a response that is truly adequate and pastoral.”

KRE/AMB END GIBSON

31 Comments

  1. Now the pope has formed a new “sex abuse commission” to study what? He already knows what to do.
    Pope Francis needs to—
    –Fire every bishop and cardinal who has and still is covering up sex crimes against kids
    –Order the “Catholic Conference of Bishops” to stop hiring lobbying firms to fight the removal of statute of limitations for child sex crimes.
    –Order all high ranking church officials to release all the names of credibly accused clerics/employees, whether they are dead or alive and then turn their secret documents over to local law enforcement to be investigated.
    –Order all high ranking church officials to pick up the phone and report to law enforcement, as soon as they suspect or receive a complaint of child sex abuse. ( church officials have no business investigating these crimes )
    –Turn over all Vatican documents of child sex abuse to the United Nations Child Rights Committee.

    Until the pope takes decisive actions, he is only delaying and stalling the full truth to be exposed, and in the meantime more children will be sexually abused within this secret system. Pope Francis could do the right thing, he does have this power, he just needs the will.

    Judy Jones, SNAP Midwest Associate Director, USA, 636-433-2511.
    SNAP (The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests)

  2. Well, how do you like that? Pope Francis must have read RNS last evening and decided it was time to take action that should have been announced from the balcony of St. Peter’s as soon as the announcement of his election and name was made.

    This all shows, of course, that the response to the sex abuse scandal has been managed all along from the Vatican, both the do-nothing management of John Paul and the weak, political reaction of Benedict–just enough, he thought, to quiet the criticism that was raging around the world–and the droves that were walking out of churches and not returning.

    It’s good that even the Vatican responds to finances. It’s even better that people are paying attention, studying, and thinking for themselves and not just submitting to the “infallible” dictates of faith and morals promulgated from supreme headquarters. It’s best that the people of God are attending to the precepts of Jesus and demanding that “princes” and other underlings of the church do the same.

    The handling of the sex scandal to this point has all been part and parcel of the centralized cover-up. John Paul’s people dared to claim it was peculiar to the U.S., blaming it on our hedonistic culture–as if we are more materialistic than any other part of the world–until the clerical “sins” were exposed as worldwide. Every society is as “hedonistic” as its finances allow. It’s called materialism. We are material. It’s a matter of sharing opportunity and supporting those in need. That’s Gospel!

    The Vatican doesn’t blast the U.S. when it is counting the biggest part of its cash from around the world that comes from the U.S. Every part of the world is as materialistic as it’s economy allows. Even the prelates in the vatican wear watered silk! It’s a matter of priorities and balance.

    • Sexual abuse of minors is a crime in every state. There is no need for any action to be taken beyond the local level to address the matter. When the Vatican finds out that a bishop has cooperated in shielding abusers from legal action, that bishop should be replaced. Francis has already taken action against at least two bishops in the US in this regard. We must keep in mind, though, that it is the degree of failure on the bishop’s part that should determine the action to be taken. We can hardly blame a bishop entirely if someone on his own staff has been negligent in handling the issue and informing the bishop.

      • “When the Vatican finds out that a bishop has cooperated in shielding abusers from legal action, that bishop should be replaced.”

        When law enforcement officials find out, that bishop should be thrown in prison for obstruction of justice. Covering up a criminal act is a criminal act in of itself. Shielding people, witnesses and assets from legal action is aiding and abetting the action itself.

        ” We can hardly blame a bishop entirely if someone on his own staff has been negligent in handling the issue and informing the bishop.”

        Actually we can. Its called vicarious liability.

        If the bishop should have been aware through reasonable efforts or was given some kind of constructive notice, they are liable for the actions of their subordinates.

        • Larry, I agree. My thoughts concerning “cooperation” above are a bit different. I was thinking of instances where a bishop simply is not vigorous enough in pursuing an investigation. Not every action taken by a bishop in these instances can fall under the label “obstruction of justice.” Those that can–not determined by people with their own agendas–should be.

          Perhaps what I read above is a vigorous application of the law that does not seem to apply when church officials choose to violate church law and preside at marriages that are not marriages.

          Interesting, isn’t it, how we can choose our perspectives when viewing law enforcement!

          • I believe responsibility always comes from the top. Employers and managers are responsible for the acts of their staff for acts they knew or should by any reasonable standard know about. In many cases “cooperated” rises to criminal obstruction. Like all crimes, they have to be dealt with on an individual basis. I don’t think making blanket excuses is a particularly moral or honest approach to the subject.

            As for your remark about marriages, it is both ignorant and ridiculous. Nobody has to care about church laws. The annoyance of a church’s hierarchy matters only to that church. Criminal laws affect you whether you like them or not.

  3. David Gibson loses HUGE credibility by quoting some of the most vile and vicious anti-Catholic bigots in the country: SNAP’s David Clohessy and BishopAccountability’s Anne Barrett Doyle.

    David Pierre
    TheMediaReport[dot]com

    -

    • DPierre, you can go even further: There’s a leftwing bias in RNS itself. You need only read the quality of the comments made regarding conservatives and conservative positions to see this.

      Nothing new here. We post to remind RNS and other posters that the left no longer owns media as it once did.

    • Gibson would have lost HUGE credibility if he had NOT interviewed Clohessy and Doyle, who continue their noble crusade to hold the Catholic Church accountable for their crimes against children. To call people who tell the truth vile and vicious is a vile and vicious ad hominem attack, Pierre. They have credibility with me, but then again, I was molested by a priest and I know how amoral the bishops have been from first hand experience. They are not anti-Catholic. They are anti-child abuse, and apparently, Pierre, you do not have a problem with priest raping children and bishops covering up their crimes.

    • Of course that doesn’t include the people who seek ill of the Catholic Church PRECISELY because of its handling of the sex abuse scandals.

      When have you stopped lying David?

    • Translation: anyone who tells the truth about the Church enabling and covering up child sexual abuse by priests seek ill of the Catholic Church. Another ridiculous attack that does not deal with reality.

    • Mr. Eckstrom, I’ll start with the header on Mr. Gibson’s latest piece. There’s one more columnist whom I can cite, but I must return to the pages to find her piece and her name again. I addressed her myself in the comment section within the past two days.

      I am not suggesting the bias one finds on MSNBC or at Moveon.org, but I do believe some better editing is in order.

      Senators Kerry and Kennedy, Dan Rather, and Tom Brokaw are on record as stating they don’t even know what the term “liberal” means. I will not accuse nor anyone else at RNS of feigning such naivete, but I do note my concerns.

  4. Earold D Gunter

    This issue has gone way past what believers call “sin”, this is sexual crimes against the most vulnerable of our species. It also doesn’t appear to be an isolated instance here and there, just within one country or even a few more. This appears to be a criminal conspiracy that very well may reach all the way to the highest levels, where Catholic Church leadership may be complicit in the crimes by helping to cover them up and assisting perverts to move from one location where they have been found out to another, unfortunately with fresh victims to abuse all over again.
    There is much evidence which supports at the very least an international criminal investigation to see if these actions were clearly known about at the highest levels of the Catholic Church hierarchy, and if so, should be prosecuted as a criminal organization, in the U.S. possibly under the RICO Act. I am not a believer, but if I were, and Catholic, I would not support this organization until they swept out there filth.
    Also, almost equally disturbing is how some people seem to care more about defending the dignity of the Catholic Church, which in my view is all gone, than for standing up for the innocent victims of this, what appears to be, mass criminal enterprise. It is simply disgusting, and would be what I would deem as “sin”.
    One more thing, the most refreshing thing I have found in RSN reporting is it is very balanced. It is refreshing because in this world of either hard left, or right wing bias, it is so difficult to find balance in any news service, religious or otherwise, even when they say they are. I have only been reading RNS for about 4 months or so, and other than the excellent writing itself, it is the balanced approach to the subjects that I have appreciated most. You and your staff of writers, please keep up the great work!

    • Earold, much you wrote about 5:30 this evening regarding the need for vigilance at the Vatican I am in agreement with. I tend to think, however, that the problem lies in the communications that should be occurring between Rome and its nuncios around the world. It might be that the pope’s representatives in the past didn’t think these abuse matters merited the pope’s attention, or perhaps they were not speaking to Rome at a high enough pitch and decible volume to make Rome realize the seriousness of the problem.

      A thought I’ve been noodling for quite some time is the notion that clerical insularity from virtually everything related to family life–remember, many of these bishops left home for seminary as early as ninth grade–and never fully appreciated the impact of sexual abuse, never really “understood” it. Naivete? Don’t for a moment think that is impossible. The perpetrators were not naive, of course, but it is more than likely that many of the bishops who live two and three steps removed from the world of the parish priest are naive, certainly unappreciative of the importance and gravity of the harm being done.

      I had 8 years of “clerical” life myself to know whereof I speak and opine. I am currently not participating in the Church for a variety of reasons, leaving before the abuse horrors became public.

      To repeat what I’ve written elsewhere on these pages, I wish that the media were as attuned on a national level to the problems of sexual abuse in our schools as they are to the abuse in the Catholic Church. They are not, I’m certain, because their focus is more on bringing down the religion factor in American life than it is on actually addressing more widespread sexual abuse.

      Both Church and “journalism” ought to face up to their responsibilities.

  5. So how does this news square with the news that the Vatican is refusing to provide details of the global Catholic clergy sexual violence against children to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child? Will the Pope over ride that decision and take real action to protect children or is this commission just another publicity stunt. Surely the Catholic hierarchy knows what the right thing to do is by now.

    “Vatican refuses to give UN panel full details of clerical sex abuse cases: Holy See angers campaigners by not disclosing information requested by UN committee on the rights of the child”

    http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/04/vatican-refuses-un-panel-details-clerical-sex-abuse-cases

    As usual, the Vatican makes all the usual excuses for why it covers up crimes and cannot expose the vile child molesting priests and their enabling church leaders to outside authorities. Prioritizing protecting the church over protecting children tells me everything I need to know about Catholic morality.

    • Mr. Bulwer, I suggest that people take a closer look at the agendas of many of the sub-sections of the UN organization to see what we can rightly say the UN is all about. The Vatican is right to distance itself from that mess at Turtle Bay, keeping an observer there only to monitor what goes on and to protest much of it.

      As for making excuses for covering up crime, in this regard Catholic bishops are hardly any different from the perpetrators of abuse in the schools who are brought to justice. None of it is excusable, and I’d like to see the spotlight placed as fully on problems in the schools as it is placed on problems in the church. That won’t happen, however, because liberals–”progressives”–find their first duty that of bringing down religion. Liberal history is replete with examples of this sort of bias, and best-selling books have been written and are still available that document thnis bias.

      • “….liberals–”progressives”–find their first duty that of bringing down religion.”

        What an absurd comment. As for me, my purpose is to protect children from the myriad harms religion can cause them. Freedom of religion, which I firmly support, includes the right to be free from religion and that right applies to children.

        In my experience, your comments are a typical response from an apologist. Many top Catholic officials make the same argument: “why are you focusing on us when child abuse exists in other institutions, including secular ones?” I could provide here dozens of news articles quoting Catholic priests and bishops saying things like that, some even blaming victims for their own abuse.

        Of course, child abuse of any kind anywhere is evil. And I don’t use the word ‘evil’ in the theological sense, but in the psychological sense as defined by Philip Zimbardo: “Evil is intentionally behaving – or causing others to act – in ways that demean, dehumanize, harm, destroy, or kill innocent people.”

        But I assume you are a believer who does use the word ‘evil’ in its theological sense, so why can’t you recognize that a sexual crime against a child by a religious authority like a priest is a greater evil (by any definition) than a sexual crime against a child by a teacher, to use your example?

        It seems to me that as a believer you should be far more concerned about child abuse in religious organizations since religion-related child abuse often leads to loss of faith and belief. From my perspective, that end result is a good thing. However, the path to that result should not be child abuse it should be child protection, which should include teaching them a comparative religion course to protect them from the dogma of any one sect.

        • Mr. Bulwer, I’ll stand by comment about the first duty of liberals. When last have you read the First Amendment to the Constitution and then looked at suits brought against displays of religious symbols in public spaces?

          I am not apologizing for clerics’ behavior. Perhaps you haven’t seen what I have to say about the leniency of all prison sentences in this regard. You still haven’t addressed my criticism that the national news programs give no reporting on abuse in the public school systems but have not failed to bring us every detail about Catholic clerical abuse,

          Sorry, sir, but our laws do not permit discrimination, that we’re all equal before the law (the Constitution tells us that). Accordingly, priests and teachers are treated equally before the law. My concern is that the laws aren’t tough enough.

          Your last paragraph is most telling about your perspective. In some quarters you would be called a bigot. “Comparative religion,” yeah; religion is nothing more than a survey course–well, to liberals, that is.
          You don’t think the various religions don’t have value systems? Perhaps you don’t like dogma because you believe that all truth is founded in the individual, that you don’t want “anyone” else telling you what is right or wrong. Carry that out to its logical conclusion: if someone thinks it’s proper to take your life, who are you to judge? If you want to rely on state laws, I’ll ask you where those laws originate.

          I’m eager to read your pointed responses to the above statements I have just made.

          • How interesting that a dogmatic bigot is calling me, someone who believes in religious freedom for everyone, a bigot. No point engaging someone like that in conversation.

            If you truly cannot understand why more attention is focused on child abuse in the Catholic Church than in secular institutions (although many US schools can hardly be called secular), perhaps this blog article will help you. It is written by a survivor of child abuse in a Salvation Army home. He is monitoring and blogging daily about the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. He has applied to testify at the hearings, but the process is being tightly controlled, with church leaders more privileged than abuse survivors. If he is denied that right to tell his story, then he plans on a disruptive protest of some kind.

            His latest article is about the Catholic church’s lawyer, whose opening statement to the Inquiry was so outrageous and offensive to survivors that many walked out of the hearing room in tears.

            “The “Towards Healing” Hearings Begin (Or: Gray’s Gaffe)”
            http://lewisblayse.net/2013/12/09/the-towards-healing-hearings-begin-or-grays-gaffe/

            “It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea.”
            http://lewisblayse.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/millstone-pell2.jpg

  6. Duane, I tried to be careful in my words so as not to state this issue was a cover up all the way to this Pope, or since it is alleged to have been going on for many years, several other past Pope’s as well. I do not know this, however a large part of this allegation involves a purposeful cover-up of these crimes by the Church hierarchy itself. An investigation external to the Catholic Church is the only way it would have any credibility, for not only the Catholic Church members, but for the rest of us, most especially the alleged victims themselves.
    If this Pope is as compassionate about humanity as what some of his previous statements indicate, and he truly is a moral human, then he must end this entire episode by fully cooperating with the representative of human justice in every country, or this black cloud will never go away from this institution.

    I have long thought that celibacy for priests and nuns would more than likely lead to alternative sexual behaviors as we are not Gods, but mere mortals with all the weaknesses that come along with that. I would argue that if anyone believes we were created by the Christian God, and he (and only calling him a he as this is the sex that your God supposedly chose when becoming mortal, which is a different and interesting topic as well) directed everyone to “go forth and multiply”, having your priests and nuns be celibate goes against Biblical teachings.
    It also puts them at a huge disadvantage if part of their roles is to counsel their flock. How can they possibly understand the intricacies of relationships unless they have experienced them as well? If I sought counseling from any of them, I would want them to at least have been in a relationship with another human that involved making love, as most humans do.

    Finally Duane, I took just a few moments to do a quick search on Google with the search term “child sexual abuse news articles 2013” and was shocked at how prevalent these stories are. Not just stories about these crimes in religious organization, but in many other organizations as well. Perhaps if you expanded your news consumption beyond your norms, you may find some of the articles you don’t think are being reported on.

    • Earold, thanks for your generous response. I placed somewhere else on this site my “theory” to partially explain the failure of bishops and perhaps Rome itself to address the abuse issue firmly and quickly. I do not believe that the popes have been slackers in this regard, but I do believe that something of a “culture of naivete” which I addressed elsewhere might explain why Curia officials and even the papal ambassadors in the affected countries did not sound the alarm.

      As for the celibacy issue, you make good points, but I don’t think the “go forth and multiply” in the Noah story must be taken as a universal. There are celibate religious in other religions. Some hold celibacy in such high esteem precisely because it stymies one of the most basic instincts of all creatures. Some view this as courageous, but we must also acknowledge that there are asexual people in the world for whom celibacy is a non-issue. I agree with you, though, that celibate clergy are disadvantaged when it comes to counselling married people unless they are living as part of a natural family and have frequent experience with the dynamics of familial relationships.

      Perhaps I didn’t make myself clear enough regarding extra-church abuse publicity. To my knowledge the major broadcast and cable media have not given the abuse problems found elsewhere, especially in the schools any major coverage, I never hear it mentioned how _____ did a major piece on abuse in schools. Yes, we get local stories about it. Maybe I’m wrong. Much of the public still gets its news from the morning shows and evening news broadcasts, as viewer stats will demonstrate. Let’s hear from Brian Williams et al. on this.

      Lastly, the business of the gender of God: I think that this is rather vain speculation if for no other reason than that we do not really know the nature of that Supreme Being or Final Cause, or “Being Itself.” People of faith take some notions merely on faith because this is about the only way to make sense of “things.” “Ultimate things,” anyway.

      In no way am I trying to defend clerical sexual abuse. Were I the lawmaker, there would be much harsher penalties meted out. I would even consider capital punishment.

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