The Accountability of Church Leaders
By Marie Collins
13th November 2018
The USA bishops had apparently intended to bring in a strong policy to hold their bishops accountable in regard to the abuse of minors. The Vatican has stepped in to prevent this happening. After this can anyone still believe that those in the Vatican see the accountability of church leadership as a priority? This latest objection by the Vatican Congregation for Bishops to the implementation of strong accountability measures in the USA mirrors the reaction, by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to the PCPM recommended accountability tribunal in 2015.
The accountability measure recommended by the PCPM included a change in Canon Law which would cede power to discipline bishops from the Pope to the CDF. The Pope approved this as he announce the tribunal would go ahead as recommended. As we know it never happened as the CDF found Canon Law problems and insisted it was not necessary anyway as enough provisions were already there.
In August in Dublin Pope Francis insisted to me that a new accountability process, in line with his moto proprio ‘As a Loving Mother’ was being implemented and bishops were being held accountable by him. This new process he told me is not consistent across all bishops but has different standards according the culture of the bishop. He later dismissed the concerns I had expressed about this as a “fixation” on accountability. Behind the Vatican objections is their absolute conviction that Canon Law is more important than any other consideration. Having an inability to accept that if any law prevents proper child protection and discipline of negligent leaders then it has to change. Christ did not write Canon Law men did and men can change it. All that is needed is the will to do so.
The current situation is untenable. Ad hock investigations taking place in some cases and different sanctions or none at all being determined by the “culture” of the bishop. As we saw at the recent Synod there are many bishops who cannot agree what constitutes abuse or even deny it is happening in their “culture”.
It is up to the Pope and his Vatican departments to cease pandering to these attitudes and drop their own fixation with Canon Law. They have to make it clear that every church leader must accept what constitutes child abuse and then enforce universal, strong best practice child protection policies including consistent sanctions for any bishop or other church leader failing to protect the vulnerable. In February The Pope should present the leaders of the world’s bishops’ conferences with three documents – all to be made public:
1. A paper setting out what constitutes abuse of a minor in clear and unambiguous terms.
2. A comprehensive, best practice, safeguarding policy (including care of victims)
3. An accountability policy setting out clearly the sanctions which will be applied to any bishop ignoring 1 & 2 and failing to protect minors or covering for an abuser.
Every representative at the meeting should be requested to sign and accept that their region will abide by these documents. If any refuse then this fact and their reasons for doing so should be made public. No more obsession with secrecy. In the future all findings of guilt in regard to any church leader and the sanction being applied must be made public. There has to be an end to the fear of scandal and the culture of unexplained “resignations”. If none of this happens then it is up to the Catholic faithful to raise their voices and refuse to accept the maneuverings of these men in their clerical bubble.
What Questions does the Church Need to Answer if They Wish to Keep Children and Vulnerable Adults safe from Harm and Improve Justice for Victims/Survivors?
These would be Mine:
Why are the strongest possible safeguarding policies, with the strength of canon law behind them, not being implemented in every diocese and congregation around the world? The USA is the only country to have a policy which is normative but every child is equally precious, where he or she lives should not decide whether they will be safe or left at risk of harm.
Why are there no robust transparent structures in place to hold accountable those in leadership who protect a predator? These structures should hold all fully accountable with strong sanctions for the guilty – dismissal from their post, removal of their titles and privileges and if necessary laicization.
How can the Church on the one hand claim to be on the side of the victims/survivors while at the same time fighting against the removal of statutes of limitation in various countries. If removed or dropped more accused could be criminally prosecuted and if guilty the victims/survivors receive justice? The actions are contrary to the words – why?
Why is real zero tolerance not in place globally to ensure any priest who sexually abuses a child is removed from the church immediately. If there is no canon law provision in existence to do this then why not bring in a new law?
Why is the Pontifical Secret used in cases of abusing priests’ canon law trials, this restricts victims/survivors legal rights to information, files etc. The Pontifical Secret was not intended to be used in his way. A year ago the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors recommended its removal from these cases but it is still in place. Why?