As more and more cases of child sex abuse by priests and prelates tumbled out of closets of consecrated people, Pope Francis’s decision to call a convention on the boiling issue was a welcome move. The enormity of the clerical crime was reflected in his speech at the concluding session of the convention when he said: “The Church has now become increasingly aware of the need to curb the gravest cases of abuse by disciplinary measures and civil and canonical processes.”
Though the issue had been simmering for decades, it seems church authorities at various levels were trying to sweep it under the carpet. Valentina Alazraki, a Mexican television reporter who has covered five papacies, put the earlier attitude of the Church succinctly when she told the assembled prelates that they could no longer “play ostrich” and bury their heads in the sand. No one doubts that the Church had kept silence over these atrocities. What people are dismayed is how the consecrated persons could live with the sins for long. Sister Veronica, a Nigerian-born nun, who spoke at the convention, minced no words when she said: “The silence, the carrying of the secrets in the hearts of the perpetrators, the length of the abuses and the constant transfers of perpetrators are unimaginable.”
Probably the issue would have remained under the carpet but for Pope Francis who has taken an uncompromising position on the issue. In 2013, the very year he was elected Pope, he had called for ‘decisive action’ on the issue. His subsequent actions asking prelates to resign sent out a strong message that the Church is no longer ready to turn a blind eye to this deeply inflicted wound. In the last few years, several bishops, from across continents, were shown the door over their sins of commissions and omissions in this regard. The Pope’s uncompromising stand became clear when he asked to quit not only prelates accused of child abuse but even those who sheltered guilty priests.
The extraordinary convention and the Pope’s interventions give out hope of a welcome change in the Church’s approach to the issue. The Pope said the victims would now be the priority and abusers would be brought to justice. One major allegation against Church is that it is not showing empathy to the victims in sex abuse cases, while the accused are dealt with kid gloves. There may be voices of discordant from some quarters as the convention has not come out with ‘concrete measures’ the Vatican is contemplating against priests and prelates convicted of abuse.
Though the convention was convened mainly to deliberate on child sex abuse by clergy, it is a pointer to which way the wind blows. At one occasion during the convention, the Pope intervened to refer to the wounds the Church bears. These wounds apparently refer not only to abuse of minors, but to sex abuse at every level. A warning bell has been sounded to clergy to behave themselves or face the music.
(Published on 04th March 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 10)