These recommendations, not surprisingly, are another tired, ineffective re-hash of the promises made by US bishops a decade ago, promises that have had little impact on this crisis.
No institution can police itself, especially not an ancient, rigid, secretive all male monarchy with a horrific history of ignoring and concealing child sex crimes. “Internal” reports or inquiries or recommendations by such institutions are nearly meaningless. They’re more about trying to restore a battered public image and the confidence of pained parishioners than about genuine reform.
During or after devastating clergy sex crimes and cover ups, Catholic officials will promise the sun, moon and stars to parishioners and the public, hoping to “turn the page” and deflect attention from the painful present to an allegedly more promising future. But wishing or pledging reform doesn’t create reform.
Only decisive action creates reform. And when it comes to this on-going, heinous scandal, decisive action by the church hierarchy seems to be forever lacking.
Look at the Netherlands’ recent and painful experience. Church officials there set up their own internal investigation. It completed a report. But a short while later, the failure of those church officials became clear: they ignored a particularly shocking and egregious practice of castrating boys who were allegedly gay.
Since self-serving Catholic officials can’t police or reform themselves, it falls to secular authorities to do so. That’s the real remedy – increase the will and the ability of independent professionals in law enforcement and the judiciary to investigate, expose, punish and deter child sex crimes and cover ups.
The recommendation to tighten seminary admissions is just silly. The real problem is not that child molesters become priests. It’s that bishops keep those child molesters on the job for years even after credible allegations against them surface. Long-standing demographic trends mean that the demand for priests is higher than ever, which tempts bishops to welcome and keep troubled seminarians and priests rather than more carefully screen and oust them.
The recommendation for “child protection classes in the academic programme for trainee priests” is, frankly, almost laughable. Does any priest molest a girl because he wasn’t taught that child sex abuse is illegal and immoral? Does any bishop hide these crimes because he wasn’t taught that being honest is best?
Similarly, we discount the pledge to “reorganise Ireland’s ecclesiastical tribunals – an internal canon justice system – so that outstanding cases could be dealt with more quickly.” Timid, self-serving Catholic officials – who put their own reputations above the safety of their flock – prevent cases from being dealt with quickly. It’s not a problem of structure. It’s a problem of personnel. The church hierarchy remains filled with career-climbing bureaucrats instead of courageous and compassionate men who are willing to “buck the system” and thwart their advancement so that kids can be safer, predators can be jailed, and complicit colleagues can be ousted.
And that’s because virtually no church employee who ignores, minimizes, conceals or enables horrific child sex crimes is ever defrocked, demoted, disciplined or even denounced by his church colleagues or supervisors. Until that changes, nothing will really change.