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The Pope Has Come and Gone

Apr 29, 2008 — Categories: ,

I think it is safe to say that everyone was surprised that Pope Benedict XVI talked about the pedophile priest crisis everyday he was in the US on his recent trip. In fact, he began the conversation with reporters on his plane enroute.

I think it is safe to say that everyone was surprised that Pope Benedict XVI talked about the pedophile priest crisis everyday he was in the US on his recent trip. In fact, he began the conversation with reporters on his plane enroute.

I expected maybe a reference hidden in a major address along the way. But he raised it consistently; it was on his radar. And in an astonishing move, he met with 5 survivors of sexual abuse by priests, an event initiated and organized by Archbishop Sean O’Malley from Boston.

For many who have worked on sexual abuse by clergy over the years, especially in the Roman Catholic Church, we don’t expect very much. The history has been grim; the incidents of abuse many; the cover-ups and bunglings by Bishops frequent; the discipline of said Bishops infrequent. Many survivors and survivor organizations like SNAP (Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests) have pleaded for a chance to speak directly with the Pope to insure that he personally understands the enormity of the pain and suffering so many have experienced. It has been to no avail until now.

The meeting with survivors, though brief, is significant. Symbolically it is huge. The head of the Roman Catholic Church meeting personally with survivors is a small piece of justice that echoes beyond those five individuals. Along with his unprecedented attention to the issue during the visit, he has put the Church on record in seeing the crisis of pedophilia in ministry as a priority.

So why is it that some folks are not so sure. Because they will not be convinced by words alone. They have a right to be cynical. Their trust has been betrayed too often. There are too many Bishops still in place who knowingly protected abusive priests rather than protecting vulnerable children. David Clohessy from SNAP summarized it best: “It’s a very long overdue small step forward, especially if it leads to reform. Talk can produce change or complicity. We hope it’s the former. But the cold, hard reality is no child is safer tomorrow than they are today.”

The Pope has named the issue for the whole Church, acknowledged the Church’s failures in the past, modeled the pastoral response of hearing the truth of survivors, and urging change. We just have to wait and see if in his administrative role, he acts to do some of the house cleaning and training for prevention that is necessary to insure that pedophiles no longer find safe haven in the priesthood.

I am hopeful that other faith leaders are challenged by the Pope’s vocal leadership on the issue of sexual abuse by clergy and that they too take more seriously the need to listen to victims and survivors as the based for their understanding of this problem which has torn at the very fabric of our religious institutions.

Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune
FaithTrust Institute
www.faithtrustinstitute.org

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