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Kent Roberts: The Catholic Church cannot reform itself

Kent Roberts

Last Sunday, Pope Francis concluded the Vatican summit on clerical sex abuse. While the four-day summit provided an opportunity for real policy change, the summit was woefully short on specifics. The summit ended with the pope warning clerical abusers to fear the “wrath of God.” A better closing message would have been: If you abuse children, ready yourself for the “wrath of the criminal justice system.”

It would have been a minimalist step in the right direction if the summit supported developing a Vatican policy that required the reporting of alleged sexual abuse to civil authorities (i.e., the police). In the past, clergy accused of sexual abuse were often sent to monasteries or, worse yet, shuffled to other parishes. For example, now former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who was accused of sexual abuse, was sent to St. Fidelis Friary in Victoria, Kansas, within a block of Victoria Elementary School, for prayer and reflection (thanks for thinking about the nearby children).

As a victim of sexual abuse by a family member, I know firsthand that recovery is a lifetime journey with many difficult days. Some abuse victims have chosen to stay in the Catholic Church to try to effectuate fundamental changes. Others, like myself, seeing the hopelessness in dealing with the Church, have chosen to leave. Margaret Henneberger, an opinion columnist for USA Today, said “… after a lifetime of stubborn adherence on my part and criminal behavior on yours, your excellencies, you seem to have finally succeeded in driving me away.”

In an article in The Week, Damon Linker, a respected religious journalist, said he was leaving the Catholic Church because it was “a repulsive institution – or at least one permeated by repulsive human beings who reward one another for repulsive acts, all the while deigning to lecture the world about its sin.” To those who believe his comments were overly harsh, read the 884-page Pennsylvania grand jury report (released in August) that concludes there were over 1,000 cases of sexual abuse by more than 300 Catholic clergy. Over a seventy-year period, these sexual clergy abusers were predatory monsters who executed the innocent souls of children. According to the grand jury: “Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all. For decades.”

The New Testament tells us that Jesus loved children and said “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:13-14). How is it that this simple, timeless message has been lost on the Catholic Church clergy for decades, if not longer?

Contrary to what Pope Francis believes, the Catholic Church is incapable of the reform necessary to stop sexual abuse. If it could, policies would have been in place decades ago to thwart future sexual abuses and that hasn’t happened. My only hope resides with the dozen or so state attorneys general who have started criminal investigations. There is additional evidence waiting to be discovered that will likely show that the abuses detailed in the Pennsylvania grand jury report were not isolated incidents. Then, what’s next – another Vatican summit on sexual abuse?

Kent Roberts is a Catholic who lives in Colville.