A writer for a Rome-based center with close Vatican ties said Saturday that Pope Francis’s “infelicitous” words on the Church’s sexual abuse scandals in Chile amounted to a “failure,” by “inflicting an unintended wound” on victims, and may raise the hard question, “Is there hope for real change in the Church?”
“As hard as it is to acknowledge, it seems inevitable that those from whom we expect more will sometimes fail us,” wrote Sara Boehk, a member of the research team at the Centre for Child Protection, located at Rome’s Jesuit-run Gregorian University.
“In the face of disheartening news, how can we move forward?” she asked in a brief post on the centre’s web site. “How can we work for institutional change?”
Her answer was that in failure lies opportunity.
“Failure is also an opportunity to reassess where we are in our safeguarding efforts, to re-focus our energies, and to recommit to our goals,” Boehk wrote. “The alternative is to abandon hope and give up.”
The Centre for Child Protection was launched in 2012 in Germany and moved to the Gregorian in 2015. It works closely with the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, a body launched in 2014 as part of Francis’s reform efforts on the abuse scandals, which is led by Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston.
While in Chile Jan. 15-18, Francis was asked to comment on his handling of the case of Bishop Juan Barros, named by the pope in 2015 to head the southern diocese of Osorno despite having been accused by victims of Chile’s most notorious pedophile priest of knowing about their abuse but covering it up.
In response, Francis accused those victims of “calumny,” and insisted there is no proof of Barros’s guilt. Those remarks triggered a firestorm, and led to the pope saying during his return flight to Rome that he regretted his choice of words, although he did not back down from his insistence that Barros is innocent.
“Although the pope still stands by Barros’s innocence, holding that no victims have presented him with evidence of the Chilean bishop’s guilt, he has expressed regret for his choice of words and asked forgiveness for inflicting an unintended wound,” Boehk wrote on Saturday.
“He has admitted to having failed the expectations of abuse survivors,” she said.
Boehk went on to acknowledge the frustration such episodes can generate among people committed to reform.
“Surveying the multiple disappointments that we witness in the Church – hurting words, poor decisions, stonewalled appointments, obstructed efforts, inadequate policies, outdated models of formation – we may be tempted to despair, to believe that as a Church we don’t really get it,” she said.
“In the face of disheartening news, how can we move forward? How can we work for institutional change?”
Her answer was, in essence, to double down on efforts for change.
“We have always known that transformation is a long, arduous journey, and cultural change in the oldest and largest institution in this world, the Catholic Church, will take many years, maybe a generation or more,” she wrote.
“Failures along the way are inevitable, but we can allow them to motivate us to strive for more focused and consistent efforts, entrusting them and ourselves to the Lord of salvation,” Boehk concluded.