Abuse: the fight goes on
Across the world crowds are emerging from cinemas with an air of quiet devastation. They have just seen Spotlight, the award-winning film charting the Boston Globe’s exposé of clerical abuse. The movie ends with an agonisingly long list of other cities where abuse has been uncovered. The implication is clear: this is a global crisis that must be fought with the greatest possible vigour.
There would never be a good time for a public falling out between the Vatican and a high-profile abuse survivor; but it is hard to imagine worse timing for the furore surrounding Peter Saunders. Pope Francis appointed the founder of the British National Association for People Abused in Childhood (Napac) to the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors in December 2014. Last Saturday commission members voted for Mr Saunders to take “a leave of absence” to reflect on his role. He described his treatment as “outrageous” and said he would only accept the decision if personally asked to by the Pope.
Those on all sides have reason to feel aggrieved. The Vatican is frustrated that Mr Saunders repeatedly strayed from the commission’s advisory brief with outspoken comments about individuals. The commission’s members are no doubt annoyed by Mr Saunders’s description of the group as being “mostly far more loyal to the Church than it is to the cause of protecting children”. And Mr Saunders is deeply perturbed that the Vatican has failed to answer probing questions about an abuse scandal centred on the Chilean diocese of Osorno. All these concerns are legitimate and have led to this messy, illtimed row.
This is a global crisis that must be fought with the greatest possible vigour
Instead of attempting to referee the dispute, we should try to see it in its widest possible context. From 2003 until his retirement in 2013 Benedict XVI led an all-out effort to address the global abuse crisis. On his initiative, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith took responsibility for abuse cases worldwide and later asked all bishops’ conferences to adopt a child protection policy. Progress was slow and uneven,
but intense media coverage ensured it never stopped entirely.
Pope Francis’s election drew attention away from the crisis before the Church had properly established global norms for combating abuse and disciplining bishops who fail to apply them. While Francis has taken major steps to consolidate Benedict XVI’s work, he has been unable to make it a consistent priority, arguably because of the demands of reforming the Curia and Vatican finances.
Francis’s greatest contribution so far has been the creation of the pontifical commission. But that body’s purpose was hazy at first, leading to the incompatible approaches of Mr Saunders and the other members.
Even though the commission’s task is now much clearer, Rome is not using the commission as intelligently as it might. As veteran observer John Allen has pointed out, the Vatican hasn’t asked the commission to train new bishops in how to respond to abuse despite its “stateof-the-art” knowledge.
In the Francis era, it is relatively rare for the Church to experience negative publicity. This latest wave should remind us that the global struggle against abuse is not over; indeed, it is only just beginning.
Seeing reason on refugees
Does compassion know no boundaries? As Christians, we would hope so, and those were the words used by Cardinal Reinhard Marx in relation to Germany’s migrant crisis in an interview with the Passauer Neue Presse last weekend.
Cardinal Marx, president of the German bishops’ conference, was talking about his country’s historic decision to shelter more than a million refugees in a single year – many of them fleeing from brutal civil war in Syria. Yet the cardinal, popularly viewed as being among the most politically liberal in a very liberal Church, expressed his view that not even a country as rich and well governed as German could afford to take in an unlimited number of new arrivals.
“As a Church, we say that we need a reduction in the number of refugees,” he said.
The cardinal argued that immigration was “not just about charity, but also reason and what is politically possible”. He said: “Policy must always be focused on what is possible and there are certainly limits. Germany cannot accommodate all the needy of the world.”
Christianity is built on a universal ideal: the notion that there is neither Jew nor Greek in Christ Jesus. This universalism continues to influence even the most secularised Europeans, some of whom have a utopian vision of a world of open borders. Such a belief echoes the charity at the heart of the Christian faith, but fails to uphold reason.
Cardinal Marx made it clear that he is not aligning the Church with racists and xenophobes. Rather, his point could be summarised as “take in fewer refugees, but treat them more humanely”. That is an eminently sensible position.
CATHOLIC HERALD, FEBRUARY 12 2016 3