Cardinal Seàn O'Malley

Cardinal Seàn O’Malley Wikimedia Commons

In a world where the pope fields questions from reporters on his airplane, it’s easy to overlook the significance of a press conference held by a mere cardinal, but the one Seàn O’Malley held Saturday was a landmark. For the first time, a Roman hierarch served notice that church leaders would be held accountable for covering up cases of sex abuse.

By way of discussing the progress of the first meeting of Pope Francis’ special commission on child abuse, O’Malley, the commission’s de facto head, put it this way:

Our concern is to make sure that there are clear and effective protocols to deal with situations where superiors of the church have not fulfilled their obligations to protect children. There are, theoretically I guess, canons that could apply here but obviously they have not been sufficient.

In other words, what we can expect from the commission is a formal process for disciplining bishops who don’t follow proper procedures for handling reported cases of sex abuse. And what will those procedures be?

Asked to comment on a recent statement from the Italian bishops conference that bishops are not under a legal obligation to report accusations to civil authorities, O’Malley replied, “Obviously, accountability should not be dependent upon legal obligations in the country when we have a moral obligation.”

In other words, the fact that legal obligations vary from country to country will not affect the standard of accountability recommended by the commission. It can be expected to put forward norms for handling abuse cases that set a floor under what bishops will be required to do.

O’Malley made clear that the commission’s own work would be formalized by drafting statutes for the pope’s approval to clarify its “nature, structure, activity and the goals.” These will solidify the commission’s authority; equally, by holding this initial news conference, O’Malley signaled that he and his fellow commissioners will make their recommendations publicly. And for that reason, they will prove difficult to reject.

To be sure, this is no guarantee that the Vatican will do what’s needed to resolve the greatest crisis to face the Catholic church since the Reformation. As Marie Collins, the commissioner who is the world’s best known victim of priest abuse, said at the press conference, “It’s very early days yet.”

But O’Malley has set the bar.

Categories: Institutions

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Mark Silk

Mark Silk

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life. He is a Contributing Editor of the Religion News Service

19 Comments

  1. Michael Skiendzielewski

    Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican’s U.N. ambassador in Geneva, lost no time asserting that its responsibility for enforcing the U.N. treaty against torture only applies within the confines of the tiny Vatican City.

    “The Holy See intends to focus exclusively on Vatican City state,” he told the committee. “State authorities are obligated to protect and when necessary to prosecute persons under their jurisdiction.”

    So what is the purpose of the newly-formed Vatican committee on Clergy sexual abuse? After their initial meetings, Cardinal O’Malley stated that the RCC needs “clear and effective” protocols to hold those accountable for committing and allowing child sexual abuse within dioceses throughout the world?

  2. Michael Skiendzielewski

    “Our concern is to make sure that there are clear and effective protocols to deal with superiors in the Church who have not fulfilled their obligations to protect children,” he (Cardinal O’Malley) told reporters.

    If the new protocols are to be “clear and effective”, how should one describe the previous protocols that contributed to the devastation of many, many children and their families throughout the entire RCC?

    Sorry to say, but “clear and effective” just is not good enough. What is needed and has been so clear, evident and obvious for many, many years is that the protocols must be ENFORCED AND IMPLEMENTED.

    On the other hand, Cardinal O’Malley might want to ask his predecessor Cardinal Law about the protocols he used to hold his clergy accountable while the Boston RCC leadership was investigating clergy abuse allegations. Why bother, the protocol that “allowed” Cardinal Law to fly to the Vatican City in the midst of such devastation and horror brought on by clergy sexual abuse was CLEARLY EFFECTIVE.

    • Lynne Newington

      Protocols were put in place here in Australia years ago, I recall Angela Ryan CSB sending material with workshops included out to every parish in the country in 2007 as Executive Officer of Professonal Standards, [a committee in place by the Australian Bishop’s Conference ] not acted upon and when individual state parliamentary inquiries and recent nationwide royal commission came into play, it revealed the very bishops who backed the darned protocols were actually being questioned themselves and left wanting; infact the Pro Nuncio of the day who was no-ones fool, escaping the Irish debarcle was embarrased and was shot off to Jerusalem.
      It’s a house of cards alright.

  3. Could this be “the hour that the ship comes in” that Bob Dylan wrote about..”and the words that are used to get the ship confused will not be understand as they’re spoken and the world’s wise men (and women) will remind us once again that the whole wide world is watching.”

  4. The Catholic Church’s protocol has not changed. Like telling Africans not to wear condoms, who then spread AIDS, what message is this Pope sending to his pedophile priests? Abstain? Don’t get caught? Pray?

    At the root of this problem are the doctrines that forbid priests to marry, and forbid women to be priests.

    Men are by nature libidinous and many will find a sexual outlet, regardless of how tight their collar is buttoned.

    • Most pedophiles are fathers, brothers, uncles, teachers etc. as they are attracted by children and are most likely to be found where there are plenty of them. Letting priests marry, therefore, is not the answer to child abuse but properly conducted widespread testing of children approaching puberty might pinpoint those most likely to abuse on maturity. I don’t know if such a test exists at present as it would entail mental and hormonal examinations and would have to be carried out with the consent of parents who would probably be unwilling to give it. The condition is widespread and not confined to the Catholic Church and the need to find out the caused is of worldwide interest not sectional.

      • “The condition is widespread and not confined to the Catholic Church…”

        So what Ana? No other institution holds itself out as the “One True Church,” a moral compass not only for 1.2 billion Catholics, but for the entire world. Pope B16 himself referred to the internal Church as “filthy.”

        As a simple seminarian I saw the filth and got out!

        http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/secrets-of-the-vatican/

  5. The only way the situation in the governance of the Catholic Church will changed in relation to clerical child rape and the wider CSA issue is to change Canon Law with its firewall of the Secrecy of the Holy Office (now Pontifical Secrecy). This was put in place by Pius XI in 1922 and vigorously enforced by every Pope since (except JP I). Among the most assiduous of these were John XIII, JP II and Benedict XVI. Now two of them are canonized and the third might well be arrested if he left the Vatican.
    It looks very much like the only thing which will effective cause a mentality shift in the thinking of Catholic leadership is to see civil governments doing their job for them. It has already happened in Ireland and it is happening in Australia.

  6. Does anyone doubt that Prof Silks obsession with reporting and re-reporting this same story over and over again is primarily motivated by politics? Is the catholic church the only institution that has had this problem? Apparently Prof Silk is unconcerned by the treatment of Episcopalian children or that other monotheistic religion that does nothing wrong and we aren’t allowed to mention, not to mention the sainted teachers union.

    Is the fact that 80% of abuse cases were homosexual in nature pertinent to protecting kids? Does he care? Does anyone care?

    • Michael Skiendzielewski

      Tony, since the other monotheistic religions re sexual abuse have not been covered adequately, why not work on it yourself and post your findings on this blog?

      Also, you might want to check your date and evidence relative to the fact that 80% of the abuse cases are homosexual in nature. Please provide supporting information for this statement.

      • Michael,

        80% of sex abuse cases were homosexual in nature according to the John Jay report, which is widely accepted as the authoritative source on the US sex abuse crisis (and certainly no church sympathizer). Now are you willing to focus on the real cause…ohhh…what….there is a new excuse?

        Prof Silk has a blog. He has a larger megaphone. Why won’t he mention these issues? How much of an ideologue do you have to be to see an attack on kids as nothing more than political pawns.

        • Michael Skiendzielewski

          Did you know that the principal investigator of the John Jay Report had, as a member of her research team, a full-time employee of the Archdiocese of New York who was working on her Master’s thesis at the time.

          Did you review the funding sources for the John Jay Study?

          • A member of a team was contaminated???? OMG! Do you ever watch late night television, notice how the comedians don’t joke about priests attacking alter girls.

            I don’t need to review the funding sources. Whether the number is 75%, 80% or 85%, nobody knows with absolute certainty, but the fact a vast majority of the cases were homosexual in nature is obvious to anyone who has been alive for the last 20 years and has access to the evening news

            btw…Who is funding this website? I always had the sinking suspicion that this was just another Soros operation.

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