So, on Wednesday Pope Francis congratulated the US Bishops here on his visit to the United States. Oh, those wonderful Bishops — who handled the child abuse scandal “without fear of self criticism and at the cost of mortification and great sacrifice,” as Pope Francis put it.
He went on to applaud the supposedly enormous efforts these US Bishops had performed to gain the trust of those under their care, and their commitment to healing. The tenor of his speech seemed to acknowledge that there was child abuse in the past — but the church has come a long way, and the bishops can be more trusted now as they are sacrificing themselves to contribute to a process of healing.
But who, exactly, is being sacrificed? These Bishops, or the abused children they are still eager to sweep under the rug?
It seems it’s the latter.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) supports this statement. Its president, Barbara Blaine, was incredulous at this mention of sacrifice when she said:
What sacrifice? What bishops takes fewer vacations, drives a smaller car, does his own laundry or has been passed over for promotion because he’s shielding predators and endangering kids? None.
Only four US bishops (out of hundreds) have resigned because they hide and enabled horrific crimes, but only after staying in power for years and only after massive public, police, prosecutor and parishioner outrage. (Law, Finn, Piche and Neinstedt)
Virtually none of the other US clerics, (out of thousands) have ever been punished in the slightest for protecting predators, destroying evidence, stonewalling police, deceiving prosecutors, shunning victims or helping child molesting clerics get new jobs or flee overseas.
And no one in the entire US Catholic hierarchy, despite 30 years of horrific scandal and at least 100,000 US victims, has been defrocked, demoted, disciplined or even publicly denounced by a church colleague or supervisor, for covering up child sex crimes, no matter how clearly or often or egregiously he did so.
In carefully-crafted remarks, Francis claims church officials are working “to ensure that such crimes will never be repeated.” He knows, however, this is disingenuous. Such crimes are happening right now, all across the world. He refuses to admit this, however, preferring to conveniently imply that somehow, because of tiny, belated and grudging steps forced on bishops in a few Western nations, no priest, nun, seminarian or bishop anywhere is assaulting children today.
Fairly disturbing — the focus seems to be squarely on the poor, poor clergy. There doesn’t seem to be a strong focus on the way the church harmed children, but rather on the harm the scandals did to the church.
Francis repeated these sentiments today, according to CNN:
“I know that, as a presbyterate in the midst of God’s people, you suffered greatly in the not distant past by having to bear the shame of some of your brothers who harmed and scandalized the church in the most vulnerable of her members,” Francis said. “I accompany you at this time of pain and difficulty, and I thank God for your faithful service to his people.”
There is plenty of anger regarding these statements as well. SNAP complains that this is part of a consistent narrative — the focus is on the harm done to the church by the scandal, and the Pope (as well as the Catholic church in general) seems focused on the suffering the church has experienced as a result of the scandal, rather than on the hurt the institution has inflicted on those placed in its charge. This narrative’s goal is to protect the church and encourage trust and sympathy in it.
Erased is the possibility that perhaps the Catholic Church is a fundamentally bad idea — that saying individuals are ordained by God gives them a dangerous halo effect that is fundamentally unearned and inherently harmful. No — to say that would possibly be the end of the Catholic Church. The scandal of trying to erase abuse instead of deal honestly with it, with a sense of empathy for the victims, continues to be perpetuated.
Put simply, the Catholic Church is using complex theology, high-sounding idealism, ostentatious uniforms, and intimidating architecture to absolve themselves of their crimes. It wouldn’t be too far from the truth to say that the purpose of the Catholic Church is, as Louis CK satirizes, to create a halo effect that allows them to abuse children and while keeping that halo intact.
As SNAP states when reacting to the Pope’s most recent statement:
We’ve long sought better papal actions more than better papal words. We still do. But this degree of insensitivity is hurtful. It deters victims, witnesses and whistleblowers from reporting child sex crimes, known and suspected. When in 2015, even this pope minimizes and mischaracterizes this crisis – calling it “difficult moments” for instance – where’s even the hope, much less the evidence, of change? Why bother speaking up if even Francis sees the scandal only through the eyes of clerics?
SNAP is right. It seems it’s time for the house of cards to fall.