Meredith Harbman: What Will Pope Francis Do to Fix Catholic Church’s Sexual Abuse Crisis?

Pope Francis walks in front of a candle in memory of victims of sexual abuse as he visits St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral in Dublin Aug. 25. A baby cried in the cathedral as the pope prayed in front of the candle in the Blessed Sacrament chapel. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) See POPE-DUBLIN-POOR Aug. 25, 2018.

“Use it well,” Albus Dumbledore says to Harry Potter in “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” These words accompany his gift of an invisibility cloak to young Harry. Dumbledore knows that the cloak is a tool that Harry will have the opportunity to use responsibly… or not.

The Catholic Church has had the opportunity, recently, to think about the tools it wields as a church—and whether or not it is using them well. Nicholas P. Cafardi, a Catholic expert in canon law, recently said, “When it came to handling child sexual abuse by priests, our legal system fell apart.”

Cafardi was talking about the waves of sexual abuse reports that have rolled over the Catholic Church in recent decades. His sentiment came from the early 2000s, but the past six months have shown its continued truth: the Catholic Church has a long way to go when it comes to handling the sexual misconduct of its priests.

The Catholic Church has a long way to go because, historically, its bureaucracy and hierarchy have enabled abusive priests and clogged the lines of communication for people who wanted to report abuse. A confusing slew of instructions within canon law shows how any chain of command can allow depravity to continue.

Some might use this as an argument against institutional hierarchy, arguing that it encourages evil to take root. However, studies show that sexual abuse occurs at a rate of six percent in the general public, which is just as often as it does in the Catholic Church. There’s nothing worse happening within Catholicism than there is in the outside world, we just expect more of a religious institution.

As a public, we are just as shocked in 2018 as we were almost twenty years ago. At first, we were appalled that such widespread abuse could happen at all, but now we’re horrified that bishops could know about the abuse and choose to cover for their priests—and vice versa.

Columnist Ross Douthat, writing for the New York Times, points out that in the early 2000s it was conceivable that the Catholic Church could address its failure. The Church could have disciplined or removed malignant clergy and moved forward in repentance. Now, however, the ongoing strife and disagreement about this issue in the Church indicate a more pervasive crisis.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Meredith Harbman