Let’s start with some suggestions for reforming authority structures in the Church, shall we? The power to avoid, dissemble, conceal, and reassign responsibility turned what might have been a series of local tragedies into a nationwide epidemic. The authority structure that enabled that needs to be checked, if not dismantled completely.
Now, I am not a professional canonist any more than I am an expert theologian, so some of the details and terminology in the following proposals may be off. I hope that doesn’t obscure any genuine value they have.
I. Reforms of Authority
1. A permanent papal legate (legatus a latere) shall be established, with authority over every diocese in the country. This office is not to be confused with the nunciature, an essentially diplomatic function; his office is closer to that of the apostolic visitor, but permanent. His principal task will be overseeing the conduct of the clergy, authorizing the immediate laicization of offending priests without further recourse to the Vatican, and the deposition of offending bishops and heads of religious communities with the Vatican’s confirmation. The idea here is both to place a check on bishops and religious, who have thus far shielded themselves pretty effectively from enduring any consequences either for abuses they have committed or for protecting guilty priests, and to accelerate the laicization of offenders in order to help protect victims and potential victims.
2. The Rite of Degradation shall be revived. It will be used in laicizing or deposing all clergy who are expelled from office on grounds of sexual abuse, financial misconduct, or other gross transgressions of their office. This is both because the faithful have a right to see justice publicly carried out—it’d be a reassuring change, among other things—and because laicizations of this kind (as distinct from cases of erroneous discernment and the like) are properly liturgical due to the character of the Church, and the corresponding character of these offenses.
3. A public database of the accused is to be established, overseen by a council of competent laity answerable directly to the Pope. It is to list: the full names (both legal and in religion, if applicable) of all clergy, religious, and lay leaders accused of sexual abuse, financial misconduct, or other gross violations of office; all past and present assignments in Catholic parishes and other institutions; and the number and nature of accusations against them. Bishops, heads of religious communities, and lay leaders will be required to share any information about abuse they possess, from whatever source, with this database. Knowingly concealing information about an accused person will carry the penalty of interdict latæ sententiæ—like, e.g., falsely accusing a priest of soliciting sexual favors in the confessional does.
I do not fondly imagine that these measures alone would adequately reshape even the culture of authority in the Catholic hierarchy of this country, let alone its culture in general. But I think they would be a good start, well worth discussing.
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