ROME – Amidst a growing clerical sexual abuse crisis, questions have arisen as to how it will impact an upcoming summit of bishops to be held in Rome in October.
In addition, in the past 10 days three different bishops have called on Pope Francis to call for an “extraordinary” assembly of the Synod of Bishops to address exclusively clerical sexual abuse.
Some bishops were floating this idea even before the letter published last Sunday by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò accusing Francis of having known and ignored McCarrick’s crimes with seminarians and an alleged restriction put upon him by Pope emeritus Benedict XVI.
Among these was Australian Bishop Richard Umbers, auxiliary of Sydney, who on Aug. 19 tweeted: “Clerical sex abuse is worldwide, it has been going on since the beginning of the Church, and the institutional response so far has been piecemeal. Civil authorities have done much great work in this area for the Church. Will we ever see a synod of bishops tackle this?”
The message was re-shared by several others, including Archbishop Peter Comensoli, of Melbourne.
Yet, there is a synod that is already planned, that will take place in October, and will see hundreds of bishops from around the world participating, including several Americans.
Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia revealed last week – in a meeting at the local seminary that was supposed to stay private – that he had written to Francis requesting he cancel the Synod on youth and vocational discernment and instead “begin making plans for a synod on the life of bishops.”
However, some believe that the best path is to move forward with the synod as it has been planned, but have the bishops address the crisis instead of avoiding it as the elephant in the room.
Katie Prejean McGrady, who was a U.S. delegate at a pre-synod meeting held in Rome earlier this year, with over 200 participants from all continents, said, “[I] absolutely think we still need to have a Synod on Youth,” and even though she agrees with Chaput on the fact that “some bishops have lost credibility,” this is not a reason to cancel it. On the contrary, “this is precisely the moment we need to discuss how to prepare for the future of the Church.”
In a series of messages she shared on Twitter, Prejean McGrady said it will “articulate that the Church knows She must discuss how to serve the current and future generations of young people who are leaving, and will leave over this.”
She said her comments weren’t inspired by the fact that she took part in the pre-synod meeting nor the fact that she works in youth and youth ministry, but because “I’m a young person, and I need the Church to serve me.”
Those who the upcoming synod is to address, she argued, seem to be the most furious over “what is (and isn’t) happening,” and not to discuss how to best serve the youth would be a “missed opportunity.”
Others still, are not questioning the need for the upcoming synod, but believe the Viganò affair – and all it involves – might be reduced to “coffee break” conversation.
“I think it is impossible for the Synod to meet without saying something about sexual abuse of children,” said Father Thomas Reese, a Jesuit who writes for Religion News Service. “As you know, when it first exploded onto the scene in the U.S., many Church leaders in the curia and around the world claimed it was an ‘American problem’.”
Then Ireland happened. And afterwards, Australia. “It became an ‘English-speaking problem’,” Reese told Crux.
Before long, Germany saw hundreds of survivors coming forth. “So it became a Western or First World problem.”
And then Chile happened. The pressure cooker that had been simmering since 2011, when crowd-pleaser Father Fernando Karadima was found guilty of sexually abusing minors following allegations first made against him in the mid-2000s, finally exploded in recent months, after three years of survivors demanding Francis remove a bishop accused of covering up for the abusive priest.
In all these cases, the Catholic Church, as Francis said in his recent letter to the People of God, “showed no care for the little ones, we abandoned them.”
“With shame and repentance, we acknowledge as an ecclesial community that we were not where we should have been, that we did not act in a timely manner, realizing the magnitude and the gravity of the damage done to so many lives,” is what the pontiff wrote in the letter, released by the Vatican only days before his trip to Ireland, during which he referred to the Church’s crimes in four of seven speeches.
Reese believes that Africa and Asia will soon have similar crises, and in some cases, deal with them “in countries where Christians are a minority—sometimes endangered—and with criminal justice systems that are brutal and corrupt.”
“God help them,” is how he put it.
As Reese’s list demonstrates, the crisis will grow before it gets better, making the synod all the more important: It’s a consultative body and for many of the prelates coming, a rather unique opportunity to learn from the experience of others.
“The synod is a chance for the bishops who have gone through the crisis to tell their colleagues, ‘Don’t make the same mistakes we did. Clean house now before it is too late’,” Reese said.
Then there’s the fact that the 11-page document by Viganò is damaging to many people, and it’s possible that even if the U.S. delegates in the meeting demand “full disclosure,” as Reese put it, “I doubt the rest of the world will agree. Even enemies of Francis realize Viganò is also accusing their people — [Cardinal Angelo] Sodano, [Cardinal Tarciscio] Bertone, etc. A full report on them would be devastating.”