Pope Francis has been praised for all the very positive things he has been saying since taking over the papacy last year. He welcomes non-believers into Heaven as long as they are "good people," he told the Church to back off on fighting against marriage equality, and he derided capitalism as dehumanizing, saying "we ... have to say 'Thou shalt not' to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills." Critics of the new pope point out this is nothing more than propaganda and remind us that out of all the great things the pope has said, no changes to Church doctrines have been put forth.
Pope Francis has spoken a few times about the Church's sex abuse scandals, but as his critics have pointed out, he had done little to stop sex abuse or change the Church's actions, until now. This week, the pope appointed a commission to solve the "sex abuse problem," Earning him praise for taking what many see as a serious step towards resolving these issues.
But is this really a step? Can a Vatican-appointed commission bring about real change and be trusted to give a non-biased and honest report about the scale and severity of the abuse and offer real solutions that will be accepted by the Church?
Not everyone seems to agree that this is a great step forward. Former Maine State senator and president of SecularityUSA, Sean Faircloth, took to his Twitter account to say:
"Pervert Priest victims want Papal ACTION protecting kids: "expose predators, discipline enablers & uncover cover-ups." A Commission? Please."
While it remains to be seen what this commission can accomplish under the guidance of the Vatican, many are optimistic, mainly because of the team the pope has put together includes a woman who was a victim of sex abuse by a priest. The panel consists of four women and four men. However, it should be pointed out that three of the four men are clerics themselves, with direct ties to the Church and possible ties to sex-abuse cases.
Maybe the viability of the panel can be deduced from those the pope has chosen to lead the way. Cardinal O'Malley from Boston, the only American on the panel, is said to bring great credibility as an outspoken advocate for action on the sexual abuse issue. Also named is Rev. Humberto Miguel Yáñez, a Jesuit who heads the moral theology faculty at Rome's Jesuit-run Gregorian University; Fr. Thomas Rosica, a Canadian member of the Holy See and the founding Chief Executive Officer of Canada's first national Catholic television network Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation; Claudio Papale, "an Italian canon law professor and official of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which handles sex abuse cases,"; and Fr. Hans Zollner of Germany who leads the Centre for Child Protection at the Institute of Psychology of the Pontifical Gregorian University.
Among the female commission members is Hanna Suchocka, a constitutional law professor and former prime minister of Poland. She is also the recipient of several awards for her work on human rights. The other women on the panel are Marie Collins, who was raped by a priest at the age of 13, Catherine Bonnet, a well-regarded child psychologist who has published works on child sexual abuse, and Baroness Sheila Hollins, president of the British Medical Association.
Appointing women to the panel seems to be a big step for the Church, given its centuries-long sexist history of keeping women from holding positions of power or priesthood in the Church itself. It is not too far-fetched to suggest the inclusion of women on the commission is just more public relations propaganda from the Church.
John L. Allen Jr. of the Boston Globe disagrees and sees this inclusion as more than a PR stunt. He writes:
"Clearly, these women aren't window-dressing. They're accomplished advocates and experts, with deep experience of getting things done both in secular circles and in the Church. Francis presumably tapped them because of their personal qualifications, but he can't be blind to the fact that this also amounts to a down payment on his pledge to boost women's roles."
So the women are more than qualified for their historic roles on this commission, but it remains to be seen if they will be taken seriously or if the clerics on this panel will drown out their work.
For now, proponents and critics will have to wait. Naming a commission is one thing, but it is nothing until it presents recommendations upon which the Vatican takes action. Those who desperately await long-sought-for justice have only this commission as their hope for answers, justice, and reform.
If this commission is unable to produce results, the Vatican's already-crumbling image will not have much left to save it. Decades of cover-ups and lies have taken their toll on the Church and have brought its credibility into question. Many looked for Pope Benedict to take serious action and he failed to accomplish anything in the way of reform, something many credit as the reason for his resignation as Pope.
Now all eyes are on Francis, the man to whom the Catholics are looking to save their Church and bring it in step with the rest of the modern world. The Church's attitude towards women in the Church, women's reproductive rights, homosexuality, marriage equality, capitalism and poverty and many other social issues that have evolved over time throughout the world, seem to have been frozen in time inside the Vatican.
Francis knows the Church's numbers are in decline and he is attempting to fill the Churches with younger bodies. This smacks of desperation, leading his critics to question his motives, but all we can say now is time will tell.
Perhaps if Pope Francis is really serious about tackling the problem of sex abuse in his Church, he should consider handing over all the paperwork and names of known abusers to authorities and letting outside panels with no ties to the Church make suggestions and progress in bringing justice and solving the abuse issue, instead of keeping it a private inside job.