Will the new commission for the sex abuse crisis heal the past?
Just hours after Religion News Service asked the question, “Is Pope Francis ignoring clergy sex abuse?” came a response from Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley.
This morning at a press conference he announced that the pontiff has called for a commission in the church’s central bureaucracy to be created. This panel of experts will to advise him on how best to approach the sex abuse crisis of the clergy.
“The world is starting to wonder if Pope Francis has forgotten the crisis,” Anne Barrett Doyle of BishopAccountability.org said after Francis’ meeting with the Dutch bishops on Monday (Dec. 2). The pope either has impeccable timing or has taken his own advice once again and to continued “living in the smell of the sheep.”
With all of the sex abuse cases against the clergy that have been breaking headlines since it became a public issue in the 1970s and ’80s, it is no wonder that Pope Francis wants to move forward with a pastoral healing process. Cases have erupted in Boston, Minneapolis, and elsewhere. Addressing this extremely negative PR topic for the Catholic Church is crucial to the church’s welfare.
More importantly, the new commission will look into how best to help the victims of sex abuse cases. Many have criticized the church for only being concerned with what makes the church look best and not concentrating on helping the victims.
O'Malley said that it will also evaluate guidelines for protection of children, programs of priestly formation, safe environment protocols, and codes of personal conduct.
An aspect of the commission that I find to be very promising is that it is going to include not only the Council of Cardinals—who originally suggested back in early October that the commission be created—but priests, men and women religious, and laypeople. This group from all aspects of the church will bring their expertise on not only the judicial and legal side of how to deal with these cases, but also a pastoral approach to them.
All of this makes it seem like the church is moving ahead to heal the deep wounds that have been open for years. The Survivor Network for those Abused by Priests (SNAP) isn’t so sure the commission is going to help. SNAP director David Clohessy said in a statement that “It's like offering a band aid to an advanced cancer patient. … Only decisive action helps, not more studies and committees and promises."
There is much work to be done, especially when it comes to a pastoral approach. The victims and their families need results from the church that will show them they are the first priority in handling these cases—something that the church has sadly failed at in the past. Will the commission help in the healing process? Only time will tell.