The scandal of children sexually abused by priests whose acts were covered up by bishops has been in the public eye in gruesome detail for more than 30 years. The Pennsylvania grand jury report, for instance, was not the first nor was it worse in detail than others were. Why it should spark the public conscience and the outrage of Catholics as it has doesn’t matter. A new moment is upon us.
The papacy of Francis, so promising of needed reform, stands at an inflection point. Either he handles this crisis with effective, wide-ranging and concrete actions, or his tenure will go down as a disappointing failure.
Most important, the current moment must lead to a radical reform of Catholic clerical culture and the meaning of ordination itself. If we cannot begin this challenging work, we should at least have the honesty to say that a monstrous evil has prevailed and that we no longer understand what it means to be a church of Jesus Christ.
Change must come from the top. In the United States, it must be initiated by the nation’s Conference of Catholic Bishops. Globally, we look to Pope Francis to acknowledge the precipice and guide us as a united church away from it.
The history is significant because any path into the future must consider the mistakes of the past. It must be acknowledged that the emergence of the sex abuse crisis spanned most of the reign of St Pope John Paul II.
The fact is that Francis is the first pope to aggressively sanction credibly accused bishops and to apologize for failing to believe and act in Chile before he decided to seek mass resignations and meet with Chilean victims on their terms. Now he must continue to buck the headwinds, first by making the work of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors a priority in the Vatican.
The path to purification will be painful and embarrassing, but the culture must begin the process of reform quickly and in earnest. Choosing the path of purification will lead us to the deepest part of the sacramental life we claim is the reality that binds us. It will lead us through the heart of the Gospel where we meet the Jesus of infinite mercy and forgiveness. But first, the examination and the confession of the truth. – Full editorial text can be downloaded @ NCR