07 February 2019, The Tablet

Bishops must be held to account


The Vatican summit which Pope Francis has convened for 21 February could be a watershed moment in the history of the Catholic Church’s response to the scandal of child sexual abuse within its ranks. There is no quick fix available, but there is a deep appreciation within the Church of how profoundly serious the issue really is, and a growing consensus about what needs to be done. The summit, to which presidents of bishops’ conferences throughout the world have been invited, is aimed at solidifying that consensus and drawing into it those parts of the Church not yet fully on board. Bishops’ conferences, of which there are more than a hundred, have been required by the Vatican to implement local guidelines for dealing with safeguarding issues. So far as many as a quarter of them have failed to do so. The religious orders, too, must no longer be allowed to escape the net.

Given that behind every abusing priest stands a bishop who has failed to protect the priest’s victims, the meeting has to have a strong element of repentance and shame. This could be powerfully demonstrated in the opening liturgy. Ritual and music – and, of course, silence – can sometimes reach where words cannot.

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