While Survivors and Advocates Wait on Response to Clergy Abuse, Church Officials Play Blame Game
A newly published letter from officials at the Vatican to the head of American bishops has called into question the reasons for the scuttling of proposed church accountability reform from last November. Ultimately, however, the letter is both irrelevant to the church’s pattern of inaction on clergy abuse and to the urgent need for reform to come and come quickly.
We take no position on the finger-pointing between Cardinals Marc Ouellet and Daniel DiNardo, other than to note that it is extremely disappointing that once again Pope Francis seems more willing to discipline a bishop for insubordination than for covering up sex crimes. But in this case, whether it was the Vatican or the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USSCB) who is most to blame in this specific instance of failing to act on clergy abuse and bishop accountability means little. The fact is, at the end of the day, there was still a failure to act as the reforms were never discussed and promises went unfulfilled.
The proposed updates to policies and the creation of codes of conduct were, at best, half-measures. But their passage would have been at least a sign that a key message was getting through: that there must be accountability not just for the abusers, but equally so for those that enabled and concealed them. In order to prevent future crimes, we must be able to have faith that wrongdoers will be brought to law enforcement, not shuffled and concealed, and only when prelates are brought to justice for their role in that concealment will that faith be restored.
The Vatican can move swiftly to restore some of that faith now.
A much-ballyhooed global summit on abuse is to take place next month, and currently one of the prelates slated to lead that conference is Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago. Yet two weeks ago, a scathing preliminary report into clergy sex abuse in Illinois was published by then-Attorney General Lisa Madigan, exposing statewide practices of minimization and concealment of allegations of clergy sex abuse. As Chair of the Illinois Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Cupich oversees the dioceses that were exposed by AG Madigan’s report. If this summit is to be taken seriously, it cannot be led by a Cardinal who is in charge of six dioceses that are alleged to have ignored or minimized up to 74% of sex abuse claims brought to them.
If Pope Francis wants to go even further, he should also remove Cardinal Daniel DiNardo as the head of the USCCB. Despite vocal statements on this scandal, Cardinal DiNardo has instead played by the exact playbook he decries publicly, whether in his current post in Houston or his previous role in Sioux City, Iowa. And, in similar fashion to his colleague in Chicago, Cardinal DiNardo’s own territory has been the subject of investigation and saw his archdiocesan headquarters raided by police less than two months ago.
The drama over this letter matters far, far less than the agenda of this upcoming summit and the authority and credentials of those leading it. To borrow a phrase from those fighting for justice in Hollywood, time is clearly up for church officials on this scandal. The Vatican can start doing the right thing by first ensuring their agenda is more substantive than an insulting code of conduct update and second by selecting new candidates as leaders for the meeting. One official who has led by example has been the Bishop of Cheyenne, Wyoming, Bishop Steven Biegler. Bishop Biegler has been steadfast in calling for accountability for bishops who have concealed sex crimes, but unlike other bishops, Bishop Biegler has followed his words with action and has forced an investigation, from both the police and the Vatican, into bishops accused of sex abuse. Pope Francis would do well to look to leaders like Bishop Biegler instead of others in February.
CONTACT: Zach Hiner, Executive Director (email@example.com, 517-974-9009)
(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)