By Gerald T. Slevin
The expanding abuse crisis requires immediate action by Catholics. It is needed to invigorate their dispirited Church for the sake of defenseless children, disrespected women, disheartened clergy and disillusioned Catholics everywhere. The repeated worldwide pattern in too many child abuse cases leads to a central source that honest Catholics must now sadly acknowledge. The Church’s hierarchy for much too long has been unwilling to act responsively on urgent issues. The hierarchy has lost much of its credibility.
Much careful analysis already exists on potential solutions. Catholics must now choose and act on these solutions. Concerned Catholics are calling for the pope to set up promptly a commission of informed Catholic lay women and men, nuns and priests, both young and old, married and single. The commission would include persons from around the world knowledgeable in relevant areas, including scripture, theology, church history, psychology and law. The commission idea was proposed as a solution recently at NJ.Com by the distinguished Jesuit, Fr. Raymond Schroth.
Fr. Schroth has served as a dean or professor at five Catholic universities, as well as at New York University. He is well versed in theology and church history. This12- person commission would review, and by majority vote recommend to the pope, necessary changes in the Catholic Church’s governance structure and its policies on human sexuality and gender, including mandatory celibacy and women priests. The pope has already been requested by me on behalf of many Catholics worldwide to set up this commission with independent and worldwide representation so that it can begin its work promptly and end the existing gridlock in Rome.
If the pope does not do this, concerned Catholics are expected then to set up the commission themselves and invite the pope to appoint two observers. The commission would be expected to accept by e-mail serious comments from all people. The commission would by August make its public recommendations for papal action and implementation by October. If papal action is not forthcoming by then, the commission would be expected to request the pope and bishops to call for an ecumenical council (Vatican III) to begin in November and to complete its work by mid-December. If neither the pope nor the council act timely, interested Catholics are expected by grassroots efforts continually to call upon their fellow Catholics worldwide to urge the pope and the bishops to adopt the commissions’ recommendations promptly.
These efforts, if necessary, are expected to include (a) media announcements and interviews, (b) direct lobbying of bishops, of major group and large individual contributors to the Vatican and the bishops worldwide,and of other Catholic interest groups, (c) appropriate public demonstrations at select key Church events worldwide, (d) calls for the withholding by all Catholics worldwide of contributions to the bishops and the Vatican, and (e) calls for all relevant governments, for example in Germany, to end all governmental subsidy payments to the Catholic Church. While Catholics will be expected to continue to support their local parishes and the Church’s health, social welfare and educational institutions, Catholics worldwide are expected to be called upon to curtail contributions intended for the Church’s hierarchy, until the commissions’ recommendations are implemented.
If the hierarchy fails to act timely, I believe all Catholics will have a clear moral obligation to support these grassroots efforts. The Gospels call upon all Catholics to protect defenseless children. Since 1990, several billion dollars of Catholics’ contributions have been diverted from advancing the Gospel to expenditures related to child abusers and those who wrongfully covered up their serious crimes, rather than primarily to addressing the child abuse problems openly, effectively and honestly. Unless this commission action is taken, these abuse expenditures can be expected to continue worldwide at high levels into the foreseeable future. For example, reports of child abuse cases are currently skyrocketing in Germany, the pope’s home country. Catholics can no longer avoid the painful truth being reported daily that their contributions are continuously being used to enable the cancer of child abuse to exist in order apparently to protect the power and positions of the hierarchy mainly. To date, no bishop has really been penalized for misconduct related to clerical child abuse. When compelling evidence of bishop misconduct has been presented, the bishops have generally been able to move into a comfortable retirement or moved to another position. Perhaps, this should not be so surprising. The Vatican is dependent on bishops for significant financial support and on voting cardinal bishops for desired political support at the next papal election, which may not be long in coming. Many Catholics want to change this unfair and counterproductive policy that fails to hold bishops accountable. Child abuse prevention programs cannot reasonably be expected to be successful, if supervising culprits, like bad bishops, are not penalized.
Many thousands of defenseless children and their families have for decades suffered from Catholic clerical child abuse. Many continue to suffer painfully. Millions of Catholics have left the Church reluctantly and dejectedly in frustration, taking their contributions with them. Recent polls indicate that millions of Catholics worldwide who remain are becoming increasingly disillusioned and many are considering leaving. Many Catholics want the Church to return to the loving spirit of the Gospels such as existed among early Christians, who for 300 years elected their own bishops and pastors. Many Catholics will not, and morally cannot, any longer support the existing ineffective and negative policies of the current hierarchy. Many Catholics want a Church governance structure that assures the accountability of all who act on behalf of the Church. Many Catholics also want the Church to promote positive policies concerning human sexuality and gender matters that are true to Catholics’ everyday lived experience in the present and in accordance with the loving spirit of the Gospels. Catholics worldwide are now increasingly standing up for their Church and, I expect, will vigorously support the call for the independent commission. History will surely judge them badly if they do not act and more innocent children suffer. The big question now is will the pope cooperate with an independent commission or will he once more miss a real opportunity to reform and preserve the Catholic Church and the great faith it supports. Time will tell!
To date, unfortunately, the pope has too often followed a Nixonian Watergate-style stonewalling strategy. He completely evades answering directly questions about his involvement in several very disturbing child abuse cases. His spokespeople mainly just deny, deny and deny. His defenders fiercely attack any one who dares to raise obvious and legitimate questions and even try to smear them with outrageous slurs. I worked while at Harvard Law School for Archibald Cox, the Watergate prosecutor mainly responsible for bringing Nixon to justice. I think if he were here today, Archibald Cox would find the pope’s strategy very familiar. It didn’t work for Nixon and it cannot in the age of the internet and 24 hour news cycles possibly work for the pope. Hopefully, the pope will realize that soon and endorse the independent commission as being in everyone’s best interests.”
Gerald T. Slevin practiced law until retirement at the Wall Street firm of Sullivan&Cromwell. Mr. Slevin attended 16 years of Catholic schools before graduating from Harvard Law School.