It was long overdue, but Pope Francis’s letter of condemnation and apology regarding the abuse of children by Catholic priests did sent a few ripples of comfort and reckoning. He conceded that the Church “showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them”. He acknowledged the “heart-wrenching pain” of the victims who had been assaulted by the clerical class, and the cries “long ignored, kept quiet or silenced”.
“With shame and repentance,” went the Pope’s grave words, “we acknowledge as an ecclesial community that we were not where we should have been, that we did not act in a timely manner, realizing the magnitude and the gravity of the damage done to so many lives.”
What is left hanging in the air is any system of defined accountability, one characterised by an ancient institution mothballed by secrecy and obfuscation. In the pointed words of Irish abuse survivor Marie Collins, “Statements from the Vatican or Pope should stop telling us how terrible abuse is, and how all must be held accountable.”
The Pope had been given a prompting this month, a nasty reminder he acknowledged in his note. “Even though it can be said that most of these cases belong to the past, nonetheless as time goes on we have come to know the pain of the many of the victims.” The Pennsylvania Supreme Court had made a near 900 page grand jury report investigating clerical sex abuse of minors public, a digging enterprise spearheaded by the…