As a child, I was among the million Catholics lining the parkway for Pope John Paul’s visit in 1979. My father propped me up on a mailbox. The sea of people was a sight to behold – one huge Catholic family. That memory is marred by what I now know as an adult about our institutional Church. It had very little regard for that “family” in so many instances around the globe and here.
According to a recent article in the Washington Post, the official itinerary for the Pope’s visit to Philadelphia on September 25 and 26th does not include clergy sex abuse. What topic could be more timely or appropriate to the World Meeting of Families? What is the short-term plan for the 1,446,508 Catholics in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia whose trust has been betrayed by the institutional Church and whose children were put at risk in parishes and schools?
The Vatican Commission and Tribunal may be workable long-term solutions, but Pope Francis could give practical meaning to his pastoral message of love and mercy by offering triage here at ground zero.
Three Grand Jury Reports (2003, 2005 and 2011) revealed case after case of allegations of clergy sex abuse covered up by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia under three Cardinals (Krol, Bevilacqua and Rigali). Abuse and cover ups occurred in several other US dioceses and globally.
This isn’t a problem in the distant past. Our Archdiocesan children were potentially put at risk here as recently as 2013. Father John Paul was allowed to remain pastor of Our Lady of Calvary for over a year while under investigation. Eventually several people came forward with allegations and he has since chosen voluntary laicization. The Statute of Limitations prevents further criminal or civil action. He is able to live anywhere he’d like without monitoring.
To add injury to injury, The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference continues to lobby against the safety interests all children and against justice for the victims of all child sex abuse (not just clergy) in the Commonwealth. The Church seeks refuge from financial and criminal responsibility under the current Statute of Limitations knowing that it allows child sex abusers to remain unidentified in our communities.
Divorce, marriage, abortion, homosexuality, poverty — all these issues and many more are so important. But as a Catholic mother, none of these things matter if my child isn’t safe. A Church that doesn’t honor and protect its children will one day be empty. It’s worth a conversation or at least a mention during this visit. Don’t you think?