Thomas Reese: Pope Downplays Expectations for Sexual Abuse Meeting in Rome

Pope Francis, flanked by Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti, answers reporters’ questions aboard the plane after taking off from Panama City on Jan. 27, 2019. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino, Pool)

Talking to reporters on his plane coming back from World Youth Day in Panama this week (Jan. 27), Pope Francis downplayed what he called “inflated” expectations for the upcoming meeting of bishops in Rome to deal with clergy sexual abuse. “The expectations need to be deflated,” he said. He also sought to lower expectations about the possibility of married priests.

Many in the United States have been hoping that the meeting on abuse, which will bring the presidents of the episcopal conferences from over 100 countries to the Vatican Feb. 21-24, would result in procedures for dealing with bishops who do not protect children from abusive priests. While the church has made progress in dealing with abusive priests, it still needs a process for dealing with bishops who do not protect children.

The expectations for the meeting were raised in November, when the head of the Vatican Congregation for Bishops, Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, told the American bishops not to vote on such procedures at their fall meeting in Baltimore. Ouellet said the Americans should wait for a discussion of the issue at the meeting in Rome.

It now appears that the meeting will not develop new policies but, in the words of Pope Francis, will be a “catechesis” on the problem of abuse aimed at bishops who do not understand the issue or what they should do in response to abuse.

It also appears that the meeting will establish a task force to help bishops in implementing the church’s policies and procedures for dealing with abuse.

“We noted that some bishops did not understand well, or did not know what to do,” Francis told reporters during his news conference on the plane.

The pope hopes that the summit will help bishops understand the seriousness of abuse and what they must to do in response. The participants need to know “what the bishop must do, what the archbishop who is metropolitan must do, what the president of the bishops’ conference must do,” he said.

The references to metropolitans (the archbishop who is first among equals in his geographical province) and presidents of bishops’ conferences is confusing because they have no role in any sex abuse protocols at present. Each bishop is solely responsible for the priests in his diocese. The archbishops and presidents might provide moral leadership, but they do not have the authority to order a bishop to do anything. If at the meeting they are given new authority by the pope to deal with bad bishops, that would be something new.

Click here to read more.
Source: Religion News Service