Catholic Bishops Told to Take Responsibility for Sex-Abuse Crisis or Risk Church Losing Credibility

Cardinals attend a procession at Saint Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, November 3, 2018. (Alessandro Bianchi/REUTERS )

A committee of Catholic Church leaders and sexual-abuse experts has chastised Catholic bishops worldwide to take responsibility for the Church’s sex-abuse crisis and to speak personally to victims in their areas — or risk losing the Church’s credibility.

“Absent a comprehensive and communal response, not only will we fail to bring healing to victim survivors, but the very credibility of the Church to carry on the mission of Christ will be in jeopardy throughout the world,” wrote the steering committee of the Vatican’s upcoming February conference on the Church’s sex-abuse epidemic, in a letter to attendees.

The committee is comprised of cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai, archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, the Vatican’s top sex-abuse investigator, and father Hans Zollner, an abuse expert in Rome.

“But each of us needs to own this challenge, coming together in solidarity, humility, and penitence to repair the damage done, sharing a common commitment to transparency, and holding everyone in the Church accountable,” they wrote.

“The first step must be acknowledging the truth of what has happened,” the committee warned the bishops and other Church leaders.

Pope Francis has called an unusual conference of Church leaders at the Vatican from February 21 to 24 that will address the abuse crisis. The conference will request the presence of the leaders of 110 national Catholic bishops’ conferences as well as many abuse experts and heads of religious orders.

“This is a concrete way of putting victims first, and acknowledging the horror of what happened,” Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said.

The response from the Vatican comes 16 years after the first reports of clerical sex abuse of minors, when the Boston Globe published an extensive report on rampant abuse in Boston.

Over the summer, news that cardinal Theodore McCarrick, a lionized Church leader and former archbishop of Washington, D.C., abused minors and adults seminarians sparked outraged demands that the Vatican hold bishops accountable for the crisis.

Months later, religious orders and dioceses continue to publish reports on abusive priests under their purview.

In August, a graphic U.S. Grand Jury report concluded that 301 priests in Pennsylvania abused minors in the last approximately 70 years. The report, which detailed some of the horrific ways the children were abused, shook the U.S. Church and prompted investigations in several other states.

Just on Monday, the Maryland Province Jesuits released a list of 24 abusive Jesuit priests, some of whom have died or already been removed from ministry.

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