Church action won’t alleviate ongoing concern

The Roman Catholic Church, so much at the center of bad news over the past couple of years due to the child sex-abuse scandal involving hundreds of priests over much of the past half-century, experienced a happy, proud and prayerful day last Sunday as Pope Francis elevated to sainthood a former pope and a martyred Salvadoran church leader.

The new saints are Pope Paul VI, who served as pontiff from 1963 to 1978, presiding over the modernizing church reforms of the 1960s, and Archbishop Oscar Romero, who voiced fearless denunciations of the military oppression at the start of El Salvador’s 1980-92 civil war and who was murdered as he celebrated Mass on

March 24, 1980, in a hospital chapel.

Many Latin Americans used the words “historic day” in referring to the canonization and the fact that Francis, the first Latin American pope, presided over the important canonization ceremony.

But despite the joy that last Sunday brought to Catholics around the world, the stain on the church stemming from the sex-abuse scandal remains imprinted now and is destined not to be forgotten.

That fact is cemented by developments of recent weeks that will have lasting impacts on current and future church leaders and clergy.

Probably the most stunning new development is the church’s creation of a new process for reporting misconduct by its bishops. The U.S. Conference of Bishops announced last month that minors or adults can now confidentially report abuse or harassment by a bishop through a third-party phone and online complaint line not run by the church.

It is bishops who are the leaders of the church across the United States, and it was bishops, including several former bishops of the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese, whose cover-ups of sexual abuse in their dioceses allowed the abuse problem to exist and grow.

The bishops in question paved the way for thousands of young people to be victimized and have their lives tragically scarred or, worse, ruined.

In its announcement, the bishops’ conference said the confidential third-party reporting system will direct complaints of sexual abuse of minors or sexual misconduct with adults by a bishop to “the appropriate ecclesiastical authority and, as required by applicable law, to civil authorities.”

The action, decades overdue, is consistent with a beefed-up stance by Ohio’s largest Roman Catholic diocese, which will join at least three other dioceses in the state and release a list of priests who have been removed from their church roles because of sexual abuse and misconduct allegations.

It is consistent with Francis’ having accepted the resignation of Cardinal Donald Wuerl, a former bishop of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, who has been under fire for his handling of clergy sex abuse while heading that diocese, which preceded his appointment as archbishop of Washington, D.C.

It is consistent with Francis’ decision to authorize a “thorough study” of Vatican archives pertaining to now ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who allegedly slept with seminarians and young priests.

Outside of those positive moves, however, deep concerns remain in the church and among some Catholic faithful over whether Francis knew about the allegations against McCarrick but chose to ignore them.

Sunday was indeed a great day in the church, but the anger and sorrow stemming from the horrific sex-abuse scandal, although perhaps interrupted temporarily that day, returned quickly thereafter, as Catholics were left wondering what other troubling revelations might lie ahead.


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