Brown: Action on sexual abuse in the Catholic Church


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In a definitive step toward long overdue action by the Catholic Church, the commission advising Pope Francis is looking into the possibility of sanctioning bishops involved in the perpetuation of indecent behavior in the church.

The 17-member commission led by Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’ Malley met to discuss issues of “accountability” when it came to sexual abuse that extends beyond the proprietor to include those members of the clergy with proximity to said issues. The commission is making a point to hold members of the church accountable for their actions, given that as of now, bishops can only be dismissed by the pope, according to church law.

I applaud the pope for addressing this issue and at least giving the appearance of making tangible steps toward solving the issue in the larger context of the ramifications for church members indirectly involved in sexual misconduct. Discussing matters of culpability should and must include not only the individual perpetrator but also any other involved party. The larger culture of sexual misconduct must be addressed rather than placing all efforts on slamming down on individual cases.

When an institution as large as the Catholic Church gives the impression to the public that it is complicit or at the very least looking the other way, it creates an atmosphere of mistrust and apprehension. This atmosphere will increase the doubt cast on the institution’s ability to maintain expected levels of transparency and responsibility. Building trust needs to be the church’s primary concern because without it, any progress made will be marred by connotations of hypocrisy and suspicion. Once trust has returned, efforts made by the Catholic Church to combat this issue will be taken at full face value.

Part of what has made this the issue of sexual misconduct by members of the clergy so difficult to deal with is the pervasive public conceptions of the church’s handling of internal affairs. More than anything, the church must reaffirm its ability and willingness to deal with this issue in every facet of its existence. Anything less than that will reek of duplicity and more of the problem the pope’s commission seeks to address.

Given the nature of these crimes and the prominence they carry, the people want to see that this is being taken care of impartially. The Catholic Church has a responsibility to the community it comprises, but its responsibility to adhere to the rules and regulations that govern society as a whole far transcends that.

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