The top Catholic prelates of Boston and Chicago apparently disagree on whether or not “zero tolerance” for predators is or is not the world-wide policy of the church.
Cardinal Francis George claims it is. Yesterday, he told reporters in Rome that zero tolerance is now “the universal law of the church.”
But hours later, Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston told The Wall Street Journal that “making sure that measures aimed at combating sexual abuse by clerics get enforced across Catholicism's global sprawl will be a "monumental task" for the next pope.
"The Holy See is going to have to mandate these into polices, “ O’Malley said, and “would be reviewing the thicket of guidelines developed by national bishops conferences around the world.”
The Journal also noted that “In recent years, these conferences have scrambled to get guidelines in place. Bishops in Italy and Germany created their own policies only after hundreds of people had come already forward across Europe to report allegations of sex abuse.”
"What needs to be done now is that all those policies need to be reviewed in a very careful way," O'Malley acknowledged.
It can’t be both ways. There’s either a global Catholic abuse policy of zero tolerance or there’s not.
Who’s right? O’Malley is, on two fronts.
First, a simple google search proves that Pope Benedict has asked that each bishop have an abuse policy. We see no evidence, however, that the pope insisted on “zero tolerance” be a part of these policies.
And O’Malley’s right, the key is enforcement. And this is, indeed, a “monumental task.”
Since the early 1990s, most US dioceses have had abuse policies. The trouble is that they’re usually honored in the breach. And why wouldn’t they be, since there is no enforcement in reality and no enforcement mechanism on paper.
Based on 25 years of experience, we can confidently say that these formal church abuse policies – at the diocesan, national, and perhaps someday at the global level - are much more about protecting the church hierarchy’s reputation and insurance coverage and legal position than about protecting kids.