Australia--Vatican decades late in bishop accountability, still no guarantee of any real change
For immediate release Thursday June 11, 2015
Media Statement by Nicky Davis, Leader, Australia Leader for SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (firstname.lastname@example.org, 0422 538 440)
The most appalling aspect of this announcement is that this move should have been made decades ago, could have saved much suffering and lives lost to suicide, and is treated as something worthy of congratulation.
It is a disgrace that half a century or more after receiving reports of the harm being inflicted, a quarter of a century after being warned about the scale and nature of the sex abuse problem, and more than a decade after announcing zero tolerance in the US and other countries, one of the most basic internal reforms has finally been announced.
It is quite an admission that this institution which has long claimed to be doing everything possible to help survivors and to protect children, and even had the arrogance to award itself the role of a world leader on this issue, has been unable or unwilling to put such a basic procedure in place until now.
The delay has certainly not been due to lack of information of the need for this measure. SNAP has been asking for church officials to take this step for much of our 26 year history.
The Vatican announcing this change is not however any guarantee of actual change.
The Catholic Church has a shameful record of making such announcements whenever calls for independent scrutiny of clergy crimes against children grow too loud. Unfortunately, there is a lack of evidence of such programs actually delivering claimed improvements, and considerable authoritative, independent evidence they are little better than PR exercises.
Also worrying is that apologists for these crimes use these empty announcements as an excuse to downplay the need for independent criminal investigations.
More than announcements of panels, commissions, guidelines, websites and other PR exercises, survivors are looking for evidence that priorities have changed, and a recognition that officials finally understand that harming children is much worse than allowing the truth about crimes against children to be publicly known.
We need look no further than how quickly priests and even bishops can be pushed out of their positions for merely speaking against Vatican policy. By comparison removing criminal child sex offenders and those who enable their crimes from the protection of Church authority is both glacially slow and disgracefully rare.
At heart of this announcement is an institution with an unbroken track record of putting its reputation first, which inflicted unimaginable suffering and even suicide death on millions of innocent children worldwide, and which is finally committing to an internal measure they should have been implementing from day one.
This is not an action requiring lengthy consideration or consultation.
It is a no-brainer.
Instead of patting Pope Francis on the back for announcing this change, we should be asking why he did not do this his first week, month or year in office. Or why his predecessors, including one the church claims as a saint, never did it at all, despite being begged to do so by survivors?
This is a basic step, which any institution with pretensions to protecting children should take as soon as it becomes clear children are being harmed, if not before.
It is not a breakthrough, nor is it a complete solution. It does not help those violated in non Catholic institutions, or where officials other than bishops have covered up. And it certainly should never replace independent criminal or civil investigations or accountability.
I worry that this panel will be used as smokescreen to delay other much needed changes until the current crop of officeholders are old enough or dead enough to permanently evade responsibility for their actions.
I worry about how such a body will function within the culture of the Catholic Church. Especially if deliberations are secret and not subject to independent review. Will this be used to continue to hide the real scale of the problem of complicit bishops?
I worry that bishops, cardinals and other officeholders who should be in jail will expect this announcement to replace criminal investigations, to mask withholding documents from such investigations, or to silence those calling for them.
And I worry how many new children, particularly in less developed countries, are being sacrificed now and in the future.
One thing I do look forward to is George Pell and Ron Mulkearns heading a long list of Australian bishops being held responsible for their actions by this panel.
Statements from international SNAP leaders:
Withhold judgment on new papal abuse panel, published Wednesday, June 10 by David Clohessy, Executive Director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (314-566-9790 cell, email@example.com)
New Vatican abuse process could go either way, published Wednesday, June 10 by Ianni A/Washington DC area Leader of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (703 801 6044, SNAPvirginia@cox.net)