The Catholic Church continues to struggle with the crisis originating from its widespread and at least decades long practice of allowing child molesters within its midst to escape justice for their crimes. In a number of cases the failure to take responsibility for the actions of their clergy went as far as allowing abusive priests to continue to work with young children vulnerable to attack. The severity of the public backlash with both Catholics and non-Catholics may have even contributed to the abrupt departure of Pope Benedict XVI, who left office with just 43% of Americans viewing him favorably.
The Church's new, more popular Pope Francis, viewed favorably by 70% of Americans, publicly committed to righting the church's wrongs when it comes to child sex abuse. The Pope met with sex abuse victims in Philadelphia to apologize for the church's complicity in their abuse, saying that "God weeps" for the sexual abuse of children.
But the Pope and Church hasn't done much more than speak about child abuse, and have instead chosen to continue many of the irresponsible practices which led to the current situation. As Laurie Goodstein noted in an article for the New York Times, "Francis appears to have accepted the resignations of three American bishops who were in the midst of escalating scandals over their mishandling of abuse allegations: two bishops in Minnesota in June and one in April in Kansas City-St. Joseph in Missouri, where the bishop was the first to ever be criminally convicted of shielding a pedophile priest. But the bishops were allowed to leave office without the Vatican's ever making clear why, and all three remain bishops." This latest action is part of a long appalling tradition within the Catholic Church which allows either the perpetrators or enablers of child sex abuse to escape persecution and often keep their rank within the church.
As Kieran Tapsell of the National Catholic Reporter noted, Pope Francis has refused to "change canon law by abolishing the pontifical secret over allegations of the sexual abuse of children by clergy and religious." While the church allows reporting of sexual abuse to the police where civil law requires such an action, only a small number of countries have comprehensive reporting laws. This means that many cases are still covered by the "pontifical secret" and are not reported to secular authorities, perpetuating the cycle of abuse and preventing justice from being carried out.
The Pope is happy to make speeches about the Church's contrition, but he is either unable or unwilling to do more than just talk about the problem. If the Pope and Church were truly serious about addressing the problem, they would start requiring all reports of sexual abuse of children to be turned over immediately to secular authorities. And while the accused shouldn't be punished by losing their jobs while judicial proceedings are underway, they should be removed from positions of influence over vulnerable children. These measures would obviously be unpopular within the curia and papal administration, but they would be signs that the Catholic Church is serious about protecting children and righting their past wrongs.
But as these changes are unlikely to happen in the near future, the American Humanist Association, Child Justice, Kid Safe Foundation and other allies formed a coalition calling for the creation of a governmental commission to investigate child abuse in all sectors of society. At the kick-off event in front of the White House, American Humanist Association lobbyist Mathew Bulger said, "For too long, advocates for children have been promised action, and been told to wait for justice to occur. We can no longer afford to wait while systematic child abuse continues unabated, and while the perpetrators of these crimes continue to victimize even more children." Immediate reform is necessary (whether initiated inside or outside the Church) if we are to ensure that children are safe from the very individuals that are meant to look after their well-being.
The Pope begs our forgiveness for institutionalized child abuse, but neither he nor his church is deserving of it until they begin to work to end this epidemic and hold the accused accountable for their actions.