Policy Change is Meaningless Without Discipline

For immediate release: February 21, 2019

As Pope Francis’ global abuse summit officially got underway today, the world’s top Catholic leader opened his global meeting with a list of 21 “reflection points” to help end the clergy sex abuse crisis.

Some of the points that the Pope has called for echo some of our own demands. We agree that Bishops must be cooperating with civil investigations and that they should be fully open and honest with the public when making decisions about accused priests.

But as we have grown to expect from the Church hierarchy, every step forward is complemented by at least one step backwards. What we wanted to see from Rome was action, yet we have heard these words before. Formalizing these points into policy is meaningless without any willingness to back them up with punishment.

In refusing to discipline those prelates in attendance who have had an active role in covering up and minimizing cases of child sex abuse, Pope Francis sends the message that Bishops and Cardinals are able to openly flout the very policies designed to hold them accountable. For example, despite being published more than 15 years ago, the guidelines within the Dallas Charter were ignored by Cardinal Daniel DiNardo in his recent dealings with cases of abuse within the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

Absent a strong condemnation of those actions and severe punishment meted out by the Pope, it is hard to believe that any guidelines being discussed today – whether we in SNAP believe in them or not – will not simply be ignored as well.

The fact is, telling bishops that “they should cooperate with civil law enforcement investigations and announce decisions about predators to their communities once cases have been decided,” is nothing new. It is yet another toothless remark until dozens of bishops who refuse are fired.

Likewise, it is easy to talk about victims having “the right to damages from the church,” but in reality church officials should be focusing right now, first and foremost, on the more difficult task of protecting children and preventing all cases of abuse.

Finally, while it sounds good when bishops are told it is a “grave sin” to withhold information from the Vatican about candidates for bishops, the fear of such sin did not prevent Church officials from covering up abuse or ignoring the wrongdoings of their colleagues in the past. Until scores of Bishops are fired for refusing to do this, nothing will change.

Policies and procedures are important, but the first step, the clearest pathway forward from this crisis, will come about from papal courage, not just policy changes. We hope that Pope Francis will summon this courage before the summit’s end and discipline those prelates who made survivors and advocates perpetually wary of changes the church is trying to make.

CONTACT: Zach Hiner, Executive Director (zhiner@snapnetwork.org, 517-974-9009), Esther Hatfield Miller (estherhatfield@yahoo.com, (562) 673-9442), Tim Lennon (tlennon@snapnetwork.org, (415) 312-5820), Mary Dispenza (mcdispenza@comcast.net, (425) 644-2468), Carol Midboe (SNAPaustin@yahoo.com, 512-934-3473)

(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org


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  • Tim McGuire
    commented 2019-02-21 13:16:47 -0600
    I agree. Just more layers of cellophane to tear through. One step forward, one step back. The word from the Pope seems to be “look toward the solution, but move sideways.” Time to drag the foxes out of the henhouse. Our best efforts seem like nothing more than posting a missing cat poster next to an animal research facility. Keep up the “GOOD” work SNAP. Eventually, there will be no more rocks for them to hide under.

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