Pope Francis speaks during a meeting with recently appointed bishops from around the world at the Vatican Sept. 13. The pope spoke about updating the processes of selection, accompaniment and evaluation of bishops. CNS photo/Vatican Media

Editorial: Confront the past

  • September 20, 2018

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was long, emotional and painful, but necessary as an act of a nation’s contrition after facilitating decades of abuse at residential schools. 

Now the Vatican should borrow that template and launch a similar movement of truth and reconciliation that, in a spirit of remorse and compassion, creates an authentic international forum for abuse victims.

The current crisis embroiling the Church makes it clear that it is near impossible to forge a better future without fully confronting the awful past. That’s what the Truth and Reconciliation hearings showed Canadians. It’s a lesson Canada’s bishops should share with their world brethren.

In his open letter to Pope Francis reported last week in The Register, abuse victim John Swales urged the Pope to direct priests and bishops to “go straight to the source of the pain.” He wants Church leaders to listen to testimonies of abuse victims, something Swales says he was denied.

“Listen silently to the devastating stories of survivors and families,” he wrote. “Believe them. Accept when forgiveness is not possible. Ask what would be meaningful to (help victims) heal. Respond with generosity and largesse.”

In Pennsylvania, the truth-telling came in grand jury rooms. Victim files from parishes described more than a thousand cases of abuse since the 1940s, and revealed several instances when bishops looked away. Since then, six other states have launched investigations and more are expected.

Rather than waiting to respond to each new civil inquiry, the Church should show leadership and fully own up to its history. Replace decades of deception with an era of truth. Unlock archival files and seek out and listen to victims. Yes, it would be emotionally painful and a logistical nightmare. Still, Church leaders should help victims come face to face with the institution which betrayed them. 

Let them speak and, like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, publish the findings.

Pope Francis has summoned the head of every Catholic bishops’ conference in the world — more than 100 national leaders — to Rome next February for a summit on the protection of minors. It’s a three-day meeting that should be more-than doubled in length, with the extra days devoted solely to listening to victim abuse stories.

Then the national leaders should be given marching orders to instruct every local bishop to convene days of listening in their dioceses. Even though few bishops have been involved in abuse or its coverup, no bishop should be exempt from hearing victim testimonies. The exercise is not about them as much as it is about allowing victims to address the institution that violated and abandoned them. 

The Church needs to humble itself and become a sincere listener so it can speak with conviction about remorse for the past and hope for the future.

Comments (1)

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It is not good enough for Pope Francis to be calling a meeting of the Bishop's Conferences six months from now in Rome.

Six months !

This long delay shows that the issue of criminal abuse is not a priority for our Church leaders. It proves they...

It is not good enough for Pope Francis to be calling a meeting of the Bishop's Conferences six months from now in Rome.

Six months !

This long delay shows that the issue of criminal abuse is not a priority for our Church leaders. It proves they are hoping that time will decrease the attention being paid to abuse issues.

The meeting should be called immediately.

And why are these conferences examining themselves ?

In the USA, the American Bishops have called an urgent consultation, " with a broad range of partners, including parents, experts and other laity ...the whole people of God . " The American Bishops have also already established a third party confidential reporting system to monitor all allegations of criminal abuse in the Church.

Pope Francis and the Canadian Bishops are just not getting it. Their irresponsible delays in dealing with criminal abuse issues and in insisting on reviewing this situation and monitoring it themselves are shameful. They must take proper action immediately and in the ways their American colleagues are doing so. Third party experts and the laity have an important role to play in resolving this issue.

Business as usual is not good enough.

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John D. O'Leary
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