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EDITORIAL: Suffer the children

The Catholic Church needs to send an unequivocal message that child abuse within its clergy ranks will not be tolerated. — 123RF Stock photo

It was yet another opportunity to take decisive action on an issue that should be easy to act against: the sexual abuse of children by Roman Catholic clergy.

But it looks like the church has come up short again.

Pope Francis held a landmark meeting on abuse by his clergy, comparing the abuse of minors to “sacrificing human beings, frequently children, in pagan rites.”

Tough talk.

Here’s some more: “Consecrated persons, chosen by God to guide souls to salvation, let themselves be dominated by their human frailty or sickness and thus become tools of Satan. … In abuse, we see the hand of the evil that does not spare even the innocence of children. No explanations suffice for these abuses involving children.”

But were the words backed by strong actions, the sort of actions necessary to deal with a problem that, more and more, seems endemic to the faith?


Since the 1980s, child sexual abuse by the church has shown up in so many places that it seems almost epidemic: Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Ontario, Quebec, Canada’s North, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Nebraska, Texas, Arizona, Alaska, California, Tennessee, Georgia, the Philippines, Ireland, Australia, Chile. The list goes on and on and on — we could literally fill this space with the names of places and different dioceses that have faced significant abuse cases.

And it’s not only the abuse by clergy that is worthy of moral disdain.

What kind of message is “If you get caught, we’ll send you to fresh pastures”?

There are also the actions of the church itself.

In an effort to protect its wealth, the church has allowed individual dioceses to declare bankruptcy to avoid full settlements with abuse victims. Bishops and higher officials have allowed the coverup of abuse in an attempt to protect the church’s reputation, and abusing priests and other clergy have been moved to new locations to shut down investigations — a move that has, in many cases, allowed abusive clergy to continue their pattern of abuse with new and unsuspecting victims in new territory.

What kind of message is “If you get caught, we’ll send you to fresh pastures”?

At this point, Pope Francis could have taken decisive action. He could have issued a papal edict saying that abusers have no place in the church, and that, from now on, there would be zero tolerance for sexual abuse.

Instead, he opted to argue for a limited, more grassroots response, saying that bishops need spiritual evolution on the issue.

Supporters argued that a papal edict could simply be overturned by a future bishop, and that more organic change was necessary.


How would a new pope dare to lift such an edict?

The message from such an action would be that child sexual abuse was acceptable to the church.

This, while for years the Catholic Church seems to have struggled with saying it’s unacceptable.

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