Feb 21st Rome Summit doomed to Fail?
by Thomas Reese, in NCR, Jan 18, 2019
Pope Francis attends the traditional greetings to the Roman Curia at the Vatican on Dec. 21, 2018.
Note: A meeting of over 100 presidents of Catholic bishops of each country from all over the world was announced September last year. It was to discuss the decades old pestering, shameful problem of clergy sex abuse, while they parade themselves as celibates. It has become the greatest scandal of the century! It is precisely in solving this question, the whole world, including this writer wants to see Pope Francis succeed exceedingly well!
We do not wish to see the coming bishops’ meet facing the fate of the Youth Synod, last October, which came with all the thunder and lightning but went off without hardly a drop of rain – that is, with little participation of youth or any practical programme of action to galvanize or energize the youth brigade in the Church. Is not the youth the strength and mainstay of the church as a community? We already wrote about it.
3-fold fruits of Vatican II
Collegiality, co-responsibility and subsidiarity were the three fold precious fruits of Vatican II. They are discussed in great detail by late Cardinal Suenens of Belgium in his book: “Coresponsibility”. It was precisely to implement those three principles that Francis first reduced himself to ‘the Bishop of Rome’, called himself ‘a Sinner’ and appointed the Council of nine Cardinal advisers, including Cardinal Osward Gracias of Bombay, to share in his Papal responsibility.
Rome has spoken and case is settled (Roma locuta est,et causa finita!) used to be the way things were done in the past. With Francis, he is introducing us to a new way of doing things, by sharing responsibility through decentralization. He has also already made Archbishops responsible for overseeing and reporting cover-ups of sex abuse by suffragans or priests under them, at least in theory.
Pope leads by example!
Whether it is done in practice is a different matter. Old habits die hard. Till now each bishop usually considers himself as King and Emperor in his diocese with no one to question him. Those times are gone, Francis shows by example! If a bishop is not careful to go by this rule book, he is bound to get thrashings both from Rome and from the faithful today. Hence the great uproar against bishops all over the world reducing their credibility to tatters.
So things are at least improving at a snail’s space, if not at a galloping speed. This February Rome summit for 4 days – too short to handle such a Himalayan problem — was announced first last September, organizing committee created in November and bishops were asked to send responses before last Jan.15. You can’t expect a giant body of world bishops called ‘Heads of Bishops Conferences’ to move at rocket speed. Can you? The higher they are in the hierarchical ladder, the weightier they are and slower they move, being that the accepted protocol!
Any Indian Bishop met Clerical abuse Victims?
One moot point raised by the writer in the article below, the Fifth Reason, is that the bishops who meet in Rome are expected to have met personally VICTIMS of Clergy sex abuse in their respective countries in preparation for their Rome summit. In the Indian Context, has the head of the CBCI or any bishop in India for that matter personally met any of the victims of clerical or Episcopal sexual abuse in India?
There have been umpteen instances of clerical abuse in India, especially in Kerala. The latest is the Kerala nun allegedly accused of rape by Bishop Mulakkal. They are still making headlines in secular and religious press and on visual media. Has any bishop cared to find time to listen to their stories or even visit them. Kerala bishops have been victimizing the nuns, shunting them to far off places in India. Various kinds of punishments are imposed on them; one bishop has compared Mulakkal to Jesus crucified. Compare in contrast, the conduct of Francis in listening to victims of sex abuse in Chille.
Then there is the other famous twenty-year story of Kadapa bishop married with a 19 year old son, which we, CCV, brought to the attention of Indian bishops; articles were sent to all bishops, but none uttering a word on it. Finally the Kadapa bishop himself took the initiative to resign and set a good Christian example, relieving the burden of other bishops discussing his aberration. Are Indian bishops ready to listen to victims of Clerical Sex abause, is the moot question! If not, just forget about anything good coming of the Feb.21st Rome summit!
Realist, not Pessimist!
Tortured by disbelief at the lack of detailed programme for bishops to study and prepare for this momentous meet this scribe also wrote in this column: “I don’t expect anything new, least of extraordinary from this Rome Summit. I wish I am proved wrong, and Francis right, as I have the greatest admiration for the present “Vicar of Christ” on earth.”
It is not because I am a pessimist, as the writer of the article below describes himself, being a sociologist – I too have a name sake diploma in Sociology from Rome! It is because I prefer to be neither an optimist nor a pessimist, but a Realist. That is what my long years of experience with the hierarchical church has taught me.
Young Rebel of Nazareth!
It was different for the ‘young Carpenter Rebel of Nazareth’. His youthful motto could have been: “Lead, Follow or Get out of the Way!” He was dealing with hypocritical High priests and power-hungry Roman colonizers and had to get things accomplished in a short span of three years, unlike most of us who have to bear the incorrigible brunt of the duo for year!
Both would neither show the right leadership, nor follow anyone who shows it, to overemphasise their superiority over everybody. They block every reasonable way forward and become the GREAT BLOCK. The only alternative left, humanly speaking for the Eternal Galilean was, to get out and remove himself, the BLOCK considered by the High priests and Politicians of the day. So he got himself hung up on Mount Calvary to make smooth their dictatorial rule!
Heavenly & Earthly points of view!
In a Heavenly point of view, it is in giving that we receive, by stooping we conquer, in dying as a victim that we are born to eternal life! But in a worldly, mundane point of view, one who is dead is to be buried before the corps gets stinking and then forgotten for good, except for those who believe in an after-life! Their number unfortunately is diminishing fast!
Hence the ‘stupid but earnest angst’ in me is to cross the portals of death, to see, touch and experience to believe, like doubting Thomas, if there is anything beyond death. This topic we shall not succeed to explain to every one’s satisfaction. That traps me – a “Know-nothing” — into a “cul-de-sac” leaving you free to choose your options. james kottoor, editor, CCV.
Please read below the article by Thomas Reese, in NCR
This month's meeting in Rome, (Feb.21st) called by Pope Francis to deal with the sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, may well be a failure before it even starts.
The stakes for the meeting have been ratcheted up, at least for the American church, as the Pennsylvania grand jury report on clergy sex abuse has summoned up new scrutiny of the church's response, from the pews and from government officials; then, in November, the Vatican squelched a vote at the U.S. bishops' fall meeting on measures designed to hold the hierarchy accountable for not dealing with abuse.
Now, more than 100 presidents of episcopal conferences from all over the world, plus a dozen or so other participants, are headed to Rome for a four-day conference beginning Feb. 21. According to the Vatican, the meeting will focus on three main themes: responsibility, accountability and transparency.
There are five reasons this meeting will fail.
First, four days is much too short a time to deal with such an important and complicated issue. The Vatican says the meeting will include "plenary sessions, working groups, moments of common prayer and listening to testimonies, a penitential liturgy and a final Eucharistic celebration."
If each participant speaks only once for five minutes during the plenary sessions, that would consume over 12 hours — almost half the time for the meeting. Add to that speeches from the pope, victims and experts, as well as time for small group discussions and prayer, and the time is gone.
Most major meetings of bishops in Rome, such as last October's synod of bishops on young people, last a month. Even at that, synods have always felt rushed, with little time at the end to prepare and approve a report. To think that the February meeting can accomplish anything in such a short time is not supported by experience.
Second, the expectations for this meeting are so high that it will be impossible to measure up.
Any meeting called by the pope raises expectations, but this one addresses a high-profile issue that has dogged the church for decades. It's the first meeting of its kind at the Vatican, and the media have been anticipating it in numerous stories.
In addition, having sidelined the efforts of U.S. bishops in November, the meeting must come up with a way to hold bishops accountable, or it will make the excuse look unwarranted and phony.A lone protester stands outside the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops meeting in Baltimore on Nov. 13, 2018. (RNS photo/Jack Jenkins)
Third, a strength of this meeting is that it will include presidents of episcopal conferences from all over the world. These are some of the most important bishops from their countries. But the cultures and legal systems of the participants vary tremendously, which will make agreement on policies and procedures difficult.
Many bishops in the Global South do not believe that sex abuse of minors is a problem in their countries. They see it as a First World problem.This is in part because many Global South bishops have no idea how bad the problem is. In their traditional cultures, victims of abuse are very reluctant to come forward to report the abuse to the church or civil authorities.
As a result, too many bishops around the world are making the same mistakes that the U.S. bishops made before 2002, when coverage of abuse in Boston encouraged thousands of victims to come forward. The bishops deny the problem; they treat it as a sin, not a crime; they don't listen to the victims; they believe the priest when he says he will never do it again; they keep him in ministry; they cover up.
It is most important that these bishops be convinced that the problem is real, and they should avoid repeating the mistakes of the American bishops.
Fourth, as far as can be seen at present, the meeting is not well-prepared.When the pope calls a synod of bishops, there is a long and complicated process of preparation that can last a couple of years. Bishops' conferences are consulted; discussion questions are distributed; and the input from these consultations is summarized in a preparatory document that is circulated among the participants. There is also an office in Rome that is responsible for organizing the synod.
This meeting, on the other hand, was only announced by the pope in September, and the committee created to organize it was not appointed until the end of November. The committee's first communication with the meeting's participants was in the middle of December, which gave the bishops until Jan. 15 to send in their response to a questionnaire enclosed with the letter.
Fifth: On the positive side, the letter urged participants to meet with abuse survivors before coming to Rome. The committee realizes how important it is to hear directly from victims, both for their healing and for a better understanding of abuse by those who listen.
The preparatory committee does have a stellar cast: Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago, Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai, Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, and Jesuit priest Hans Zollner, president of the Center for the Protection of Minors at the Gregorian University. Scicluna and Zollner are recognized experts on the abuse crisis who have credibility with both the media and survivors.
Nonetheless, the meeting will also fail because, in order to succeed, Francis will have to lay down the law and simply tell the bishops what to do, rather than consulting with them. He'll have to present a solution to the crisis and tell them to go home and implement it.
Francis will not do that. He does not see himself as the CEO of the Catholic Church. He has a great respect for collegiality, the belief that the pope should not act like an absolute monarch. At his first synod of bishops, he encouraged the bishops to speak boldly and not be afraid to disagree with him.
I support the pope's commitment to collegiality, but discussion and consensus-building take a lot of time. People, especially survivors and the media, are rightly impatient. They are not looking for another discussion and pious talk, but concrete policies and procedures that will protect children and hold bishops accountable.
In addition, Pope Francis thinks more like a pastor than a lawyer. He calls people to conversion rather than creating new policies and structures.According to Alessandro Gisotti, the interim director of the Vatican press office, "It is fundamental for the Holy Father that when the Bishops who will come to Rome have returned to their countries and their dioceses that they understand the laws to be applied and that they take the necessary steps to prevent abuse, to care for the victims, and to make sure that no case is covered up or buried."
Francis appears to believe that the current laws are sufficient but need to be enforced. His goal, then, will be to get the bishops on board, not come up with new solutions. This is important, but it will not satisfy those wanting accountability structures to punish bishops who do not do their jobs.
I hope I am wrong in being such a pessimist — as a social scientist, I am always a pessimist when looking at the church and the world. As a Christian, I have to be hopeful. After all, my faith is based on someone who rose from the dead. Francis may pull it off, but I fear that when the meeting is over, it will only be seen as a small step forward in an effort that is going to take years.[Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese is a columnist for Religion News Service and author of Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church.