The Roman Catholic Church took pains to deliberately hide the extent of its global sex abuse crisis, going as far as destroying documents and failing to compile records that could be used to prosecute perpetrators, a top cardinal admitted this week.
At an unprecedented Vatican summit designed to tackle the church’s lingering child sex abuse scandal, German Cardinal Reinhard Marx shed light on the institution’s many failures to tamp down on the problem, telling the gathering of more than 190 bishops from around the globe that “the rights of victims were effectively trampled underfoot.” The National Catholic Reporter has more:
”Files that could have documented the terrible deeds and named those responsible were destroyed, or not even created,” said Marx, beginning a list of a number of practices that survivors have documented for years but church officials have long kept under secret.
”Instead of the perpetrators, the victims were regulated and silence imposed on them,” the cardinal continued. “The stipulated procedures and processes for the prosecution of offenses were deliberately not complied with, but instead canceled or overridden.”
The Catholic Church is in the midst of a reckoning over its wide-scale child abuse allegations that span the globe and date back decades. Thousands of child victims have come forward describing their abuse, while hundreds of priests have been reprimanded by the church as a direct result. But only recently has the shoe begun to drop for the highest-ranking officials, including those who are either accused themselves of sexually assaulting young children, or allowed the abuse to continue under their watch.
Just last week the Vatican defrocked Theodore McCarrick, an ex-cardinal and the former archbishop of Washington, who was accused of abusing at least three minors and harassing adult seminarians. It’s likely the first time that a cardinal has been expelled from the priesthood specifically because of sexual abuse, but comes too late for McCarrick’s victims to pursue criminal charges against their alleged abuser.
Pope Francis, who has had a mixed record on addressing the church’s pedophilia problem, convened the four-day summit in a landmark effort to curb the widespread and systemic failures that turned the issue into a global crisis. In his opening remarks on Thursday, Francis condemned the “scourge” of sexual abuse and said it was up to church leaders to “confront this evil afflicting the Church and humanity.”
But for years, it’s been others who’ve claimed the spotlight calling for accountability and reform — a trend that continued at the pope’s conference this weekend.
A Catholic nun took bishops to task: “This storm will not pass by. Our credibility is at stake.”
Activists and victims of clergy abuse are calling on the church to adopt a “zero tolerance” policy that would apply universal standards for abusive priests around the globe. So far, however, accountability measures have varied from region to region — if they happen at all. Even as more and more allegations of abuse come to light, factions within the church still deny its existence. Which is why one major theme to emerge out of this week’s summit focuses on transparency as a (small) first step to confront the crisis.
It’s a point driven home by Sister Veronica Openibo, a Nigerian-born nun and journalist, who in a standout moment in the conference, chastised church leaders to their face for their culture of silence and hypocrisy. As CNN religion reporter Daniel Burke noted of Openibo’s speech, “a nun just read the riot act to Catholic bishops over clergy sex abuse.”
”Let us not hide such events anymore because of the fear of making mistakes,” Openibo said. “Too often we want to keep silent until the storm has passed! This storm will not pass by. Our credibility is at stake.”
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