Editorials

Mysteries of Catholic church include delay in confronting abuse

Pope Francis leaves Friday after celebrating an Epiphany Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. Earlier in the week his letter to bishops was released outlining the church’s zero tolerance policy for clergy sexual abuse of children.
Pope Francis leaves Friday after celebrating an Epiphany Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. Earlier in the week his letter to bishops was released outlining the church’s zero tolerance policy for clergy sexual abuse of children. AP

When an institution measures time in centuries, change comes slowly. Still, it is dismaying that it takes a religious institution decades to finally find the moral high ground.

Last week a letter from Pope Francis to the world’s Catholic bishops was made public. He called for zero tolerance for child molesters within the clergy.

“It is a sin that shames us,” the pope wrote. “Persons responsible for the protection of those children destroyed their dignity.”

One wonders what finally made the difference? An epiphany? “Spotlight”? The pleas of deaf Italian children molested by their priest teacher?

It certainly wasn’t the pleas in 1993 of the victims of the first of 17 clergy members removed in the Belleville Diocese. It still wasn’t the judgments against the diocese in 2009 for $1.2 million or in 2011 for $6.33 million or in 2012 for three undisclosed awards to clergy abuse victims.

Only two of those 17 abusers lost their collars. The shame cast doubt on scores of good clergy members, hurt the faithful and indelibly changed the relationship between priests and parishioners.

There was some measure of justice for the few victims who received cash. For the rest there may have been counseling, but likely they just had the fragments of their faith.

If justice awaits in the afterlife, then those 15 who kept their collars found or will find St. Peter unwilling to use his keys.

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