Vatican news reported that Pope Francis met with the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Archbishop Gerhard Mueller. In their discussion, Pope Francis clearly stated that the decisive action set in motion by Benedict XVI while he was in office and even before when he placed the sexual abuse cases under his jurisdiction as head of the Doctrine of the Faith, continue. He stressed that measures promoting child protection, help for the many in the past who have suffered, and due process against those who are guilty, must continue. For many, coming from a position of hurt and pain, this is not enough and the Church can never do enough to rectify a terrible wrong.
But the Church has not been sitting idly by in the last eleven years since the story broke in 2002 in Boston. Here is what has been done, as reported by Sister Mary Ann Walsh in her blog for the USCCB dated today. In the early 1990's the U.S. Bishops published some protocols on how to deal with these issues, a field previously uncharted. In June of 2002, after the Boston stories broke, the Dallas Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People was adopted by the bishops at their Dallas meeting. It stressed a zero tolerance of sexual abuse of a minor by a cleric, demanded referral to civil authorities and called for prevention programs. It has been revised, but is still in effect. Is it working? Some say yes, some say no.
Last year 4,684,009 children went through child safety programs in the Church. 2,362,813 priests, deacons, seminarians, educators, church employees and volunteers went through background checks and training in child protection. Last year CARA ( a Georgetown research center) found 11 allegations of child abuse under the age of 18 reported. This is out of a Catholic U.S. population of 77.7 million. It is still discouraging, but not as rampant as the press would lead you to believe. Many older cases continue to surface and are being dealt with. We are not sitting on our hands and doing nothing, for we have sinned and find the need for repentance. We were forced by circumstances to take the lead as other institutions are confronting the same challenges - scouts, sports programs, schools, other churches, anyone dealing with youth. There is no denying that the Catholic Church is leading the way in this terrible scourge on our young, and rightfully so since we also have a moral responsibility. Does more need to be done? Absolutely! And it looks like Pope Francis is determined to continue the push to bring credibility to the Church so that the message of Christ, rather than our sinfulness, take the headlines.
[ My thanks to Sister Mary Ann for providing these stats ]