This Register Symposium is not a physical conference, but a written collection of shared reflections from independent contributors with specialized knowledge regarding the clergy sexual abuse crisis. The nine experts have been asked to reflect on the root causes of the problem, and the most effective path forward for the Church.
People ask, “What is the root cause of this crisis?” but is it true that there is a single root cause?
From cases that I am acquainted with, the following would seem to have had an impact:
a) the experience of having been abused prior to becoming an abuser;
b) the pervasive influence of being brought up in a homosexual climate; and
c) the fact of having been part of a pedophile circle.
A second important consideration: Is there possibly a different root cause in the case of the abuse of the girl child in contrast to the abuse of the boy child?
A third question concerns the role of the neoliberal subculture that was actively advocating the pedophilic lifestyle, which included sexual relations not only between adult men and youth, but also adult men and younger boys. This phenomenon would seem to have been stopped in its tracks by the outbreak of the spate of legal claims against the Catholic Church, launched by lawyers on behalf of victims of sex abuse.
Quite clearly, there are a number of possible causes of sex abuse to be investigated before naming any in particular as the root cause or causes. As a consequence of the above, I believe the Vatican Summit on Abuse would need to begin with a general survey of bishops’ views from around the world, rather than working off the assumption that a particular root cause exists.
Regarding the path toward healing, the first thing the summit needs to do is to establish the level of awareness, the level of preparedness and the level of engagement that exists in bishops’ conferences from the different areas of the world. Secondly, the summit will need to hear from each bishops’ conference on the nature of the problems causing concern, the level or extent of the problems, and the kind of remedial action already in operation or in the pipeline.
To me, it is quite premature to be talking about episcopal accountability even before establishing the nature and the extent of the problem.
My first expectation of the Vatican summit is that the bishops will be honest and open in sharing the known state of affairs in their conference areas. Second is that they will give the issue their priority attention, looking at it from the point of view of what the word of God and the Church’s teaching say on the matter, rather than what the media or the dominant narrative expects from the summit.
While it may be true that adverse media attention has pushed the Church into meeting in summit, responding to that publicity must not be the driving force. Love, care and justice for the victims, their families, their Church and civic communities must be paramount.
On the issue of addressing all sexual abuse — of children, youth and vulnerable adults — as stated above, if every area of the Church identifies honestly and accurately the problem in its context, then the measures to be taken will vary accordingly. There cannot be a “one-size-fits-all” solution forthcoming from the summit. But as with the Synod of Bishops and other universal Church workshops, a clear set of principles, as well as a variety of practical measures aimed at implementing those principles, will be the best result.
The actual fruits of the Vatican summit will not be visible in the immediate aftermath of the summit, but in the concrete decisions and actions taken by the different conferences according to their analysis, their theological reflection and their practical pastoral plans of action.
In conclusion, I honestly believe that the synod model and the outline given above is the way to go, on condition it adheres to the parameters set by the preparatory documents, which in turn have value to the extent to which they reflect the responses from the pre-synodal survey, or pre-summit questionnaire in this case. But three things “broke” this rule at the 2018 Synod on “Young People, Faith and Vocation Discernment”: first, the attempt to use that synod to respond to the U.S. crisis on sexual abuse, i.e., calling for the postponement of the synod or wanting the synod to issue a quickly-put-together statement; second, attempting to force the language of homosexual ideology into the synod’s final document; and, third, the sudden introduction of the paragraphs on “synodality” into the document.
“To each according to his needs” is a principle worth considering.
Cardinal Wilfrid Napier
is archbishop of
Durban, South Africa.