Pope Francis did an amazing thing, for a pope, that is. He declared that the “culture of abuse and cover-up”, as it pertains to the sexual abuse of children by the Catholic Church, must end. The statement was made in a letter to the Catholics of Chile, where a sex abuse scandal has been on display for the whole world to see unfold.
That’s all well and good for Chile, but the rest of the Roman Catholic empire needs some attention as well. The highest ranking Catholic prelate ever was just convicted of covering up child sexual abuse in Australia and an even higher ranking one from the Vatican itself is about to stand trial there soon.
Add to Chile and Australia the 25 other countries, representing six out of seven continents, including 41 states or territories in the USA, that have new or ongoing child sex abuse cases involving the Catholic Church. It is going to take a lot more “never again”s to manage this! Even if (BIG IF) Pope Francis is sincere about this reform, he is trying to make a sharp turn with an ocean liner after finally seeing the iceberg dead ahead. I wish him luck.
It doesn’t take a genius to see how difficult it would be to change the modus operandi of an institution so set in its ways, so established in its wealth, power and influence as is the nearly 2000 year old Roman Catholic Church.
Victims and their advocates have long pointed to the hierarchy’s culture of cover-up – the silencing and discrediting of victims, the effort to avoid scandal and the reflexive aim to safeguard the interests and reputation of the church at all costs – as the Vatican’s main failure in dealing with the problem.
If it were even possible, it would be so disruptive it would undermine its own foundations and crumble. That’s how I know it is not going to happen. But the Church will surely try to make us believe that’s what they are doing.
The process is already at full steam in New York. I don’t think Pope Francis will be sending an envoy to speak with Cardinal Dolan, telling him to stop spending millions of Church dollars on blocking the Child Victims Act (“CVA”), a law which would allow all survivors of childhood sexual abuse to seek justice, not just the 4% or so abused by Catholic priests. But it would have been a powerful “never again” moment, if he did.
Instead, Cardinal Timothy Dolan uses the wealth, power and influence of the Catholic Church in New York to make sure the CVA is kept buried in the Senate, employing lobbyists and using his own personal relationships in Albany. Separation of church and state is a joke when politicians like Senator John Flanagan, who has blocked every version of the CVA for years, are doing His Eminence’s bidding by preventing the Senate from holding as much as a hearing, much less a vote, on the CVA.
Last year Senator Jeffrey Klein proposed an alternate bill and this year Senator Catherine Young has done the same. These are not serious attempts to address the problem, but smoke and mirror moves that the Church and other opponents of the CVA can wave around as alternatives to the real solution and use as distractions to muddy up the issue and sow doubt and discord among the CVA’s supporters.
Cardinal Dolan’s very successful Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program, or IRCP, is a work of art when it comes to smoke and mirrors. The IRCP has been so successful for the Church that it is has been copied by other diocese and you can even recognize parts of it in Senator Young’s bill. Despite being the polar opposite of what it professes to be, the IRCP has been a success because it does exactly what the Church designed it to do, not what it professes to be doing.
INDEPENDENT: While pretending to be independent, it is clearly controlled by Cardinal Dolan and there is no transparency as to how and for what the administrator gets paid. What are the standards, criteria or goals of the program?
RECONCILIATION: While calling itself a reconciliation program, it is nothing of the sort. Neither the abusers nor their enablers/protectors are held accountable in any way, and although the Church provides NO information from their side, the survivor is assumed to be making a false claim and must supply voluminous documentation to support their claim. It is undoubtedly true that in a majority of these cases the church already knows the facts of its culpability yet still puts survivors through the wringer again.
COMPENSATION: Admittedly, there are survivors, for whom this program was the only option, who have indeed been helped by it. But that is in spite of the IRCP’s actual intent, not as a result of it. For here is where the true purpose of the program is revealed.
If given a settlement opportunity, survivors are offered much less compensation than anything that would be awarded by a jury. In exchange, they give up their right to sue or ever have a jury hear their story. By denying the survivor any access to the court system, the Church avoids the discovery process, gets to hold onto all its secrets and never has to admit any wrongdoing.
Through the IRCP the Church is trying to shake the “sexual abuse survivor tree” to see what falls to the ground. They are clearing away as much of the low hanging fruit as they can so they have that much less culpability to face when the CVA gets passed and the dirty truth finally starts to come out.
Cardinal Dolan and the NY Council of Catholic Bishops, as disingenuous as they are, are just the tip of the iceberg that lies in front of Pope Francis’ “never again”. Even if acting in good faith, he has his work cut out for him in the rest of the world. I wish him the best of luck and might even say a prayer for his success, but won’t be holding my breath. If we want the Child Victims Act to pass in New York State we are going to have to get it done ourselves.