Friday, April 13, 2018

The apologies that Pope Francis now needs to make

The apologies that Pope Francis now needs to make 

The Tablet

Why the Pope's initial response to the Barros case was a classic demonstration of clericalism at its arrogant worst
Pope Francis has at last acknowledged that he made "serious mistakes" in his handling of the case of Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno, Chile. He has expressed his "pain and shame" at the suffering of victims of child abuse in this case, whom he has said were "crucified" by it. He had not believed them. He had swept aside their complaints as "calumny", virtually calling them liars. As a result he has brought the entire Catholic Church in Chile into disrepute, as well as his own office.

It is difficult to overstate how dreadful this episode is. Had he been the head of a large international agency, particularly one with child protection responsibilities, the Pope would have had to resign in disgrace. Instead, he has to put his remorse and regret to good use. He has to repair the damage.
We all make mistakes, and we all live in need of God’s mercy. The Pope’s public confession and humiliation is itself a lesson in the school of holiness he writes about so adroitly and attractively in his apostolic exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate. If he were the leader of another international organisation he would have fired Barros and sought to shield himself from the damage. Instead he appears to have got to the truth of the matter after a swift yet thorough investigation by Archbishop Scicluna. And by calling the bishops of Chile to Rome he has shown a serious intent to address the underlying problems. That is to his credit.
The questions that must be urgently addressed are, What went wrong? and, How should it be corrected? For the answers, Pope Francis does not need to look further than himself. His initial response to the allegations against Bishop Barros, which he compounded by his defiant attitude on arrival in Chile in January, was a classic demonstration of clericalism at its arrogant worst. This whole affair has revealed an egregious abuse of power.
But it is also true that Francis was the faulty user of a faulty system.
Everyone who says they have been sexually abused must be listened to. Such cases as the Barros one should be examined and assessed by independent and properly trained judges. There must be objective criteria and objective judicial processes, and access to justice must be freely available to everyone. The outcome should not depend on the subjective opinions and attitudes of one man, be he Pope or whoever.
What is lacking in the Church is a charter of rights for the laity, a Magna Carta which constrains the monarchical powers of popes and bishops and grants an absolute right to due process to every last Catholic, however humble. Without that, the Catholic Church remains stuck in the early Middle Ages, a feudal tyranny, no matter how benign.
The real culprit in the Barros case is clericalism, and the irony is that the man must guilty of it here, Pope Francis, is also its severest critic in every other context. The slow and obstructive response to the spate of clerical sex abuse scandals in the Vatican shows that clericalism is still the dominant ideology in those quarters. These scandals will not stop until clericalism is eliminated, root and branch. But it will not disappear of its own accord. The Barros case shows once again how powerless the victims of clerical sex abuse can be when there are priests who believe they have privileged access to the truth able to slam the door in their faces.
Meanwhile Pope Francis has a fuller list of apologies to make – not least to members or former members of the Vatican's own child abuse commission – and reprimands to issue, including to several senior Chilean bishops and other prelates, who, by giving him bad advice, compounded his problems.
Good must come out of this shameful affair. Seeing that this happens has become Pope Francis's must important duty from now onwards.