Pope Francis today announced the formation of a high-level commission to advise him on how to handle instances of clerical sex abuse in the Roman Catholic Church. It is a cautious and underwhelming response. From the NYT report:
At the same time, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, the leading United States-based support group for clergy abuse victims known by its acronym, SNAP, called the news a disappointment that reflected badly on the new pope. David Clohessy, executive director of the group, said the announcement suggested that the Vatican remained strongly resistant to making sexually abusive members of the clergy and their church protectors accountable to external criminal prosecution.
“A new church panel is the last thing that kids need,” Mr. Clohessy said in a telephone interview from St. Louis. “Church officials have mountains of information about those who have committed and those who are concealing horrible child sex crimes and cover-ups. They just have to give that information to the police.”
Precisely who will serve on the advisory commission and what authority it will have remained unclear. But Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, the only American among the eight cardinals advising the pope, said on Thursday that it would include priests, men and women from religious orders and laypeople with expertise in safeguarding children, and that it would offer advice on pastoral care rather than judicial functions. That seemed to signal that it would not make proposals for exposing or punishing abusive clerics.
The commission will have a broad mandate including the development of “norms, procedures and strategies for the protection of children and the prevention of abuse of minors,” the Vatican said in a statement.
Look, the US Catholic bishops at the national level, and most US dioceses at the local level, have adopted strenuous and detailed norms, procedures, and strategies over the last 10 years. Did those strategies prevent Bishop Finn of Kansas City from criminally shielding a child porn priest in 2010 and 2011, despite the stated policy of the diocese? Did it prevent the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis from engaging in its own cover-ups, including recent offenses, which were only exposed by a disgusted archdiocesan whistleblower this year? The previous archbishop, Harry Flynn, headed the US bishops’ national effort to fight clerical sexual abuse after the historic Dallas meeting in 2002. But in his own diocese, he was covering up. His successor, John Nienstedt, continued the policy until the whistleblower outed him. In the wake of the scandal, Abp Nienstedt has called for — wait for it — a task force to study procedures.
And now, so has the Pope. This, almost 12 years after Boston.
Talk is cheap. And easy.