Sunday, May 02, 2010

Benedict XVI and Vatican refuse to bring true reform

Pope and Church hierarchy have refused to bring true reform

BY DAVID CLOHESSY, Special to The Post and Courier
Sunday, May 2, 2010

http://www.postandcourier.com/news/2010/may/02/02david/

Last weekend, the pope continued his pattern of avoiding substantive discussion of the church's roiling worldwide child sex abuse and cover-up crisis.

Days earlier, he used the word "abuse" in public for the first time in more than a month, promising "action on the part of the Church."

A few days before that, he described the Church as the body of Jesus Christ "wounded by our sins."

Pope Benedict is in a difficult but perversely enviable position. He heads an institution in which thousands of children in the U.S. alone have been raped, sodomized and/or assaulted (no one knows the precise number), and in which nearly 4,700 clergy were alleged to have committed sexual abuse between 1950 and 2002, according to a John Jay College of Criminal Justice survey commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. These figures are widely assumed by experts to be only a fraction of the total.

The Church has attempted to cover up many of these crimes; offenders have been protected, promoted and transferred (and some still are), as the news media have made apparent.

Yet all Benedict has to do is make indirect references to and promises about these devastating crimes and cover-ups, and he is widely graced with favorable international coverage. With just two or three carefully orchestrated sentences over a few days, Benedict leaves the impression that he's doing something about an intractable, decades-old crisis.

Many in the Church hierarchy seem to think that the most brief acknowledgment of wrongdoing and an indistinct promise of reform will generate sufficient goodwill.

Keep in mind that the pope is the CEO of a global monarchy with a very troubling track record when it comes to the safety of kids.

Benedict has the power, with a stroke of a pen, to really make a difference and protect the vulnerable, heal the wounded and restore trust in the hierarchy. He just refuses to use that power in any way that brings true reform to the Church by putting an end to decades of secrecy and recklessness.

Instead, he only uses words. Words can be powerful weapons, especially when the pope is taking on worldwide crises over which he has no control, like poverty, war, racism and AIDS. But over this scandal, Benedict has virtually limitless power. And his words, however eloquent, protect no one (except perhaps the Church's criminals and enablers).

Sadly, this pattern of talking a lot but doing little to tackle predatory priests, nuns, brothers, bishops and seminarians "trickles down." When the media and the parishioners are moved by gestures and impressed with words, few in the Church hierarchy feel compelled to take tangible steps to oust child-molesting clerics, or have them criminally prosecuted, and help their still-suffering victims.

Take Charleston's Catholic Diocese. Over the past few years, our group has urged diocese officials to take several steps forward dealing with abuse. But for the most part, we've been rebuffed or ignored.

We've asked Catholic officials in Charleston to post the names of proven, admitted and credibly accused child-molesting clerics on the diocesan website. Few of the state's Catholics, for example, know of Fr. Robert Hrdlicka, who pled guilty to indecent acts with minors in Beaufort in 1993 after being accused in the 1970s for abusing boys in Nebraska.

Almost 20 U.S. dioceses have posted names, according to BishopAccountability.org. But not the Diocese of Charleston. We asked Catholic officials in South Carolina and many other dioceses to stop taking advantage of legal loopholes and technicalities such as the statute of limitations, yet we've seen precious little indication that our pleas are being heard.

A year ago, the bishop of Charleston, the Most Rev. Robert Guglielmone, issued a statement "inviting any victim of sexual abuse by Church personnel to meet with him for spiritual healing." But like many other bishops, Guglielmone made no mention of the civic and Christian duty to call police, despite what the Church has claimed to be a policy requiring that law enforcement is notified. The Church's determination over the years to handle criminal matters "in house" has led to the devastation of children's lives across the world.

Recently, Church officials have lashed out at media coverage of the scandals. Guglielmone defended his boss in the diocesan newspaper and online by claiming "Pope Benedict has done more than any other pontiff to address the issue of child sexual abuse and prevent it from occurring." In the real world, this is called "damning with faint praise."

He repeats the old canard about the Church making "great strides" in combating abuse, while neglecting to admit that only the pressure of outraged parishioners, civil lawsuits, criminal prosecutions and media coverage have forced the Church hierarchy to act.

Guglielmone states the obvious: that abuse is "not an issue unique to priests." He touts the Church's supposed "strict guidelines" on abuse but fails to mention a fatal flaw -- there's virtually no penalty for violating those guidelines, only a citation in an annual report by a Church panel. So Church officials continue to act much like they always have, albeit with considerably more public relations savvy than they were forced to use in the past.

David Clohessy is executive director of Chicago-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP).

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