Op-Ed, The New York Times
May 19, 2011
The Vatican's long overdue guidelines for fighting sexual abuse of children are, unfortunately, just that — flimsy guidelines for a global problem that requires an unequivocal mandate for church officials to work with secular authorities in prosecuting rogue priests.
Instead, the Vatican has issued nonbinding guidance that punts the scandal back to the authority of local bishops, who still will not face firm oversight or punishment for cover-ups that recycled hundreds of abusive priests.
The directive came two days before a new study of the abuse problem that cites the sexual and social turmoil of the 1960s as a possible factor in priests' crimes. This is a rather bizarre stab at sociological rationalization and, in any case, beside the point that church officials went into denial and protected abusers.
The Vatican directive is also seriously defective for playing down the role of civilian boards in investigating abuses. The lay boards helped force the American bishops to proclaim a zero-tolerance policy that was finally more concerned about raped children than the image of the Roman Catholic Church.
The Vatican guidelines note that abusing children is a matter for secular law and call for dioceses to create "clear and coordinated" policies by next year. But the continuing stress on church priority in what essentially are criminal offenses is disheartening.
Vatican officials say Rome should not interfere with the traditional supremacy of local bishops. That was not the case earlier this month, when Pope Benedict XVI removed Bishop William Morris of Australia from office. The bishop, concerned with the shortage of priests, asked five years ago whether the Vatican "may well" have to reconsider the bar to ordaining women or married men.
No dramatic dismissal was ordered for bishops well documented to have overseen hush payments to victims and relocation of abusive priests. Splendid Vatican sanctuary was extended to Cardinal Bernard Law after he had to resign amid reports he covered up the scandal in Boston.
Most recently, ranking churchmen in Philadelphia rejected a grand jury finding that as many as 37 priests suspected of abuse should not still be serving. The diocese later suspended 26 amid public alarm. This should have been a red flag to the Vatican that diocesan prelates need a no-nonsense fiat in repairing the damage to children and the church from decades of shielding abusive priests.