You never wanted this job, but presumably God put you there for a purpose.
You are facing overwhelming pressure to take a firm lead on finding credible and workable solutions to the scandal of sexual assault and harassment rocking the Roman Catholic Church: a sickness that has been poisoning it for decades. You will have to confront head on the beliefs, attitudes, and practices that have allowed this culture of abuse to flourish.
One example of what you are up against is the recent letter written by two prominent Cardinals urging an end to what they call “the plague of the homosexual agenda”, telling Roman Catholic bishops to abandon their complicity over cases of sexual assault. Yet, they repeat the same mantra: that abuse of power by clergy is not the main cause but only those priests who have “gone away from the truth of the Gospel”.
Undoubtedly, what we think we know is just the tip of the iceberg. The potential for abuse is ingrained in a hierarchical structure that demands obedience, complicity, and secrecy in every aspect of its workings. Many see the sexual abuse of minors, of young priests and nuns, as a perk of the job. Responsibility for the ensuing whitewash goes all the way up Jacob’s Ladder and there is a huge gulf between the public denials and hand-wringing by prelates, and the entombment of suspicions, rumours, and facts.
Irish activist Marie Collins was paralysed by trauma for much of her life after being abused by a priest as a child. She campaigned to name and shame her abuser, who was eventually jailed in 1997. The experience led her to create the Marie Collins Foundation, whose aim is to enable children who suffer sexual abuse and exploitation via internet and mobile technologies to recover and live safe, fulfilling lives.
In 2013, Pope Francis personally selected Collins to sit on the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, where she helped devise new procedures for the Church to deal with and prevent further abuse. All the Commission’s recommendations have been approved, but the Curia, the administrative arm of the Catholic Church, has fiercely resisted putting them into practice.
After the Commission recommended that all correspondence from victims and survivors should receive a response, Collins discovered that none had been given a reply. On 1 March 2017, she resigned in frustration at the Church’s resistance to change. Collins wrote, “It is a reflection of how this whole abuse crisis in the Church has been handled: with fine words in public and contrary actions behind closed doors.”
Prelates are still making public displays of contrition and promises of reform. In some cases, they have apologised for the misdeeds of their predecessors and peers, emphasising that many cases stem from decades ago and that reforms have dramatically reduced the incidence of abuse. They ignore that it has taken 35 years of civil litigation, investigative journalism, and legal proceedings to lift the veil of secrecy on what seems to be a conspiracy at the highest levels to conceal crimes.
Accountability for the actions of current and past priests, bishops, archbishops, and cardinals is the only way forward. In his last remaining years, Pope Francis could serve his calling no better than by rooting out, publicly acknowledging, and condemning every instance of abuse beginning with the most recent. To do so will require a Machiavellian wiliness and the courage of a true saint.
But let’s not be complacent. If this is the state of the Roman Catholic Church, what is going elsewhere: in the Anglican Church, the Orthodox Church, and in every religious body where power is in the hands of vile and unscrupulous men?
Dear Pope Francis, drain the bitter cup. Sack those responsible for abuse and those responsible for concealing it. Set in motion irrevocable procedures to eradicate this scourge. Your reward will be in Heaven.