Sometimes people call me a pessimist. How about: Realist.
Our beloved bishops met in Baltimore. Card. DiNardo concluded things by saying:
I am sure that the conversation the global Church will have in February will help us eradicate the evil of sexual abuse from our Church.
Three problems here.
1. The speaker of these words
Last week the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests called upon Card. DiNardo to resign as President of the US conference of Catholic bishops. As you remember, dear reader, the police arrested one of Card. DiNardo’s episcopal vicars in Houston on sex-abuse charges. The police proceeded to raid two parish offices, and the office of the local Catholic mental-health treatment center.
DiNardo had known about the abuse for the past eight years. He had promised one of the victims that the abusing priest would never again have the opportunity to interact with children. But the priest continued in parish ministry until his arrest in September.
2. The meeting in February
In three months and six days, the presidents of the world’s bishops’ conferences will meeting in Rome. For the first time. Ever.
No customs exist to guide the proceedings. Will every president have ten minutes to speak? If so, that will occupy nineteen hours. That fills two and a-half of the four days scheduled for the meeting. One assumes that the pope and some Vatican officials will also speak.
Doesn’t leave much time for anything else. Like discussion. Or voting on anything.
No public documents governing the February meeting exist. The only written reference to the meeting is a September 12 “Communiqué of the Council of Cardinals.” (The “Council of Cardinals” is itself a body without a history or any clear authority.)
Have the presidents of the bishops conferences received official invitations to the meeting from Pope Francis himself? If so, what do those invitations say?
(To be honest with you, dear reader, I think it is likely that, at this moment, some bishops’ conference presidents do not know anything about this meeting yet. Some presidents certainly will not appear, owing to ill health; some may not appear because they never heard anything about it.)
The Catholic world has Roman-rite and non-Roman-rite bishops’ conferences. The Roman-rite conferences fall into twelve regions. I believe there are 114 Roman-rite conferences. Plus a handful of non-Roman conferences.
A meeting of bishops’ conference presidents cannot claim proportional representation; it will make our US Senate look proportional by comparison. Huge conferences–like our own, or India’s, or Brazil’s–have one president. So do small conferences, like New Zealand, Liberia, or Latvia.
The presidents of bishops’ conferences do not all speak Italian. I would daresay that only a tiny minority of them do.
Last month the Vatican hosted a Synod of Bishops. Some Synod fathers complained about having to vote on a final document that they could not understand, since it had been written in Italian and no translations had been made. As of today, the Vatican website still has only the Italian version of the final Synod document; no translations.
What text will serve as a point-of-departure for the meeting?
In August our Holy Father published a “Letter to the People of God,” reacting to the Pennsylvania grand-jury report.
The pope insisted that all Christians must live in solidarity with the victims of sexual abuse. He invited us all to fast and do penance. He condemned “clericalism.” He called sexual abuse an “atrocity.”
Will this letter serve as the point-of-departure for the February meeting?
If so, I foresee some problems. Imprecisely lumping sexual abuse in with ‘atrocities’–acts of cruelty usually associated with war–does not help. ‘Clericalism’ is a problem in search of a definition.
But if the Holy Father’s letter will not serve as the point-of-departure for discussion, what will? Will the Holy See publish anything between now and then? If so, when?
My point here: I think we fall into naivete of the most blameworthy kind if we imagine that one four-day meeting of the world’s bishops’ conference presidents will result in anything specific or concrete. Best case scenario for the February meeting: Universal agreement that sexual abuse is bad.
3. Card. DiNardo promised the impossible: “The eradication of sexual abuse from our Church.”
I think we can rest assured: If human efforts could eradicate sexual abuse from the Church, St. Peter himself would have done it. But in this real, fallen world of ours, we have to contend with unpleasant things like people sexually abusing minors.
The problem we have in the Catholic Church is: No one running the operation has any idea what to do when sexual abuse occurs. That has been The Scandal. Still is.
And the fantasy that the February Vatican meeting will address the scandal is itself quite scandalous.