Pope Francis has received positive headlines for his new regulations requiring priests and members of orders to report child sex abuse to the governing bishop or superior, and some changes in the church’s investigation process.
Those who don’t follow this issue for a living are praising him and saying this is a great step forward. What’s wrong with this picture? First, do you mean to tell me that the Church did not already mandate that every priest report suspected abuse to his bishop or superior long ago? Set aside the obligation to the common good to report suspected abuse to the authorities, this is amazing.
Second, the press and public have to stop treating the Church’s baby steps to solve this gargantuan problem as though they are actual progress. These latest moves are once again nothing more than insulating, internal rules; they don’t begin to enlist civil society and social justice to end the scourge of child sex abuse. No civil institution can end the vicious cycle of protecting the child abusers and endangering children without resort to the larger world beyond. It is going to take the globe to end child sex abuse.
When I first read the headlines, I foolishly assumed that Francis had finally made reporting to the authorities a flat mandate instead of the slippery requirement it is now. The Vatican has “ordered” clergy to report suspected child sex abuse to the authorities if the governing law requires it, and then the bishops lobby for the confessional privilege and exemptions to the mandated reporting laws. I was once again naively optimistic, and wrong!
I knew he hadn’t done what is most important right now: stand up for access to justice for the victims his institution created—and every other sex abuse victim . He needs to order his bishops to stop spending the Church’s money lobbying against all of the victims of child sex abuse. Now. They are losing in some states as the statute of limitations (SOL) reform movement is on a roll in 2019 with New York, New Jersey, Montana, and Washington, DC, already passing window legislation—which revives expired civil SOLs for the victims.
SOL reform window legislation is social justice in the interest of the common good, yet the bishops continue to fight it tooth and nail. It identifies hidden predators, shifts the cost of the abuse to those who caused it, and educates the public. All of these directly benefit the public good. So long as lawmakers listen to the bishops, they keep incest perpetrators in business, make institutions that covered up and perpetuated the abuse unaccountable, and shield their remaining dirty secrets from a public that desperately needs to know the truth.
Lawmakers must stop waiting for the Church to fix itself.
Rep. Bobby Scott Proposes a CAPTA Requirement that States Investigate Their Laws Relevant to Institution-based Child Sex Abuse
Two-thirds of the common law world, which includes the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia, have instituted public investigations into institution-based child sex abuse. Guess who is dragging its heels? The Australian Royal Commission has wrapped up its groundbreaking study, while the UK is in the thick of it. .Yes, that leaves the United States.
There has not been a peep from any quarter of the US federal government until now. Although I find this confounding, given that we are talking about the sexual assault of American babies, toddlers, children, and teenagers, it continues to be politically impossible for the federal government to do the right thing and just institute a national investigation.
There is a light on the horizon, though, as Rep. Bobby Scott has recommended that this year’s Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) re-appropriation include a requirement that the states examine their laws related to institution-based sex abuse, and the markup emerged from committee with this requirement intact. This is the first glimmer we have seen in Washington shining a light on the child sex abuse epidemic other than the Olympic scandals.
There has been dead silence in Washington as the world has watched the trail of victims in the United States emerge from the dark since 2002. Rep. Scott’s taking up the cause is a major step forward.. To be sure, approximately 16 state attorneys general are investigating the Catholic Church scandal in their jurisdiction. The problem with those limited investigations, however, is that child sex abuse runs across the whole society. Every youth-serving organization needs to be questioned and made accountable to the common good of child sex abuse prevention. Time for Congress to incentivize the states and to get the federal authorities involved in analyzing the legal systems that have permitted such rampant child sex abuse, and that is what the House CAPTA bill now provides. The Senate needs to take up the same cause.
Pope Francis: Support the Victims’ Access to Justice Legal Reform
Pope Francis, your Church often takes stands for social justice and the common good. How about shifting from the endless rearrangement of the deck chairs at the Vatican on child sex abuse to instead join the movement to change the system to prevent institution-based abuse and to create justice for child sex abuse victims to benefit the common good? That is a headline that would be worthy of praise, unlike this latest minor change in Vatican policies.