For years now the Catholic Church has been facing criticism around the world for its inaction in failing to prevent sexual abuse of children by Catholic Priests. Furthermore, the Church has been criticized for failing to hold Bishops who failed to prevent the abuse accountable.
Therefore, advocates for sexual abuse survivors were cautiously optimistic when Pope Francis announced plans to create a tribunal to prosecute Bishop’s under Canon law who covered up sexual abuse by Priests.
However, last week the Pope backed off on his proposal to criminally prosecute Bishops. Instead the Pope issued an apostolic letter to “clarify” the proper procedures available under Canon law to punish Bishops who have been found to have violated the Canon code.
The Church’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is the body that is supposedly in charge of prosecuting priests accused of sexual abuse within the church. Francis planned to create an arm of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that would be in charge of investigating prosecuting bishops accused of negligence in protecting abusive priests or in covering up sexual abuse by children. Perhaps it comes as no surprise that this initiative was opposed by Catholic bisops around the world.
In the face of the opposition Pope Francis has decided to scrap the tribunal idea entirely.
To be clear, the Tribunal was never really necessary. The Canon law already contains provisions that would have allowed Bishops to be prosecuted for negligence or misconduct, including covering up for sexually abusive priests. The problem has always been the previous Pope’s and persons in authority within the Catholic Church have lacked the will to confront the problem.
It is unfortunate that even simple and obvious reforms like holding Bishops accountable for protecting pedophiles cannot seem to make it through the institutional inertia of the Catholic Church. For decades it has been obvious that for those in authority within the Church the reputation of the church is more important than protecting its most vulnerable members, children. Obviously Bishops wouldn’t want the spectacle of senior members of the church being prosecuted for protecting child abusers.
What do they have to hide? Apparently a great deal.