Friday, July 9, 2010

The Pope’s Duty

July 8, 2010 NYTimes
The Pope’s Duty
When rolling scandal forced the American Catholic bishops conference to take action against pedophile priests, the prelates issued a tough policy requiring accused child molesters be reported immediately to secular authorities. This mandate finally acknowledged that crimes against children should take priority over bureaucratic church policies that served to cloak rogue priests and bishops in a fog of ecclesiastical evasion.

Eight years after the American church’s overdue order, it is shocking that Pope Benedict XVI and the Vatican have not yet applied it to the worldwide Roman Catholic Church. The pedophilia scandal has erupted in other nations, leaving parents concerned about a repetition of the harrowing experience in America, where more than 700 priests had to be dismissed across a three-year period. Yet the Vatican is reportedly working on new “guidelines” — not mandates. They are likely to fall short of zero-tolerance and other requirements in the American church that parishes and communities be alerted to abusers.

It is becoming clear that, as a Vatican administrator for two decades, the future pope handled the pedophilia scandal with no great distinction. Church policy under his aegis was too often a study in confusion and frustration for diocesan authorities looking for firm guidance from Rome, according to an investigative report by Laurie Goodstein and David Halbfinger in The Times. Alarmed bishops in English-speaking nations put unusual pressure on the Vatican to have a secret meeting in 2000 to consider stronger countermeasures.

Unfortunately, a dynamic policy has yet to emerge. As new reports arise of pedophile abuses and diocesan cover-ups in Europe, Chile and Brazil, Benedict has had to face the scandal and its victims more directly. He has put aside defensive Vatican complaints about anti-Catholic persecution and admitted the problem is “born from the sin in the church.”

In this spirit, Benedict has the obligation to shepherd not just guidelines but credible mandates that all priest-abusers and bishops who abetted their crimes face disclosure and punishment.

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