On his flight home from Panama last week, Pope Francis told reporters he wanted to deflate what he perceived to be “inflated expectations” about the summit for presidents of bishops’ conferences on clerical sexual abuse to be held in Rome later this month. As far as I can see, however, the media’s expectations have been anything but inflated.
Back on December 9, for example, Crux’s John Allen wrote a column headlined “A reality check on expectations for February child abuse summit.” Or take my RNS colleague Tom Reese, who stuck in the needle a couple of weeks ago with “Five Reasons the pope’s clergy sex abuse meeting will fail.” Ouch.
Still, I’m sticking with my hopeful scenario. I predict that the meeting will move the Church significantly forward in dealing with the greatest challenge to its moral credibility since the Reformation.
For starters, let’s note how the pope himself explained what he meant by needing to puncture inflated expectations: “Because the problem of abuse will continue. It’s a human problem.”
Well, sure. If anyone imagines that a four-day meeting at the Vatican will put an end to all sexual abuse by priests and others in responsible positions in the church, they need to be disabused.
So what did Francis say will take place at the meeting?
First, the heads of the bishops’ conferences will be given a “catechesis” in child abuse. They will, in other words, be instructed in the nature and consequences of sexual abuse the way the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church lays out church doctrine.
Then they will receive a set of “protocols” for dealing with abuse cases. These will set the terms for “general programs” that each bishops’ conference will develop to address abuse, including “what the bishop must do, what the archbishop who is the metropolitan must do, what the president of the episcopal conference must do.”
“But,” said the pope, “it must be clear in that…that they are—let’s say it in terms [that are] a little juridical—that there are protocols that are clear. This is the main thing.”
Finally, the bishops will “pray, listen to witness and have penitential liturgies, asking for forgiveness for the whole Church.”
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Source: Religion News Service