On sex abuse, asking the right questions

The announcement over the weekend of the new Vatican Commission for the Protection of Minors made me think that at least I was asking the right questions at the panel discussion with Cardinal O'Malley last Wednesday. Leadership roles for women? They make up half the membership of this commission (so far), a good start. Will O'Malley be advising Francis on appointments to the commission, or sex-abuse-related policies and priorities? Obviously (as he must have already known).

As for accountability: it's something the commission may (and should) decide to take up. I think Mark Silk has it right. After quoting the Vatican's official description of the commission's duties, he writes:

I would suggest to Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the big dog on the commission, that the key item on this list is “civil and canonical duties and responsibilities.” In the U.S.and many other places around the world, there’s  been plenty of attention to education and the discipline of abusers, to say nothing of symbolic acts of ecclesiastical apology. What’s needed are binding and enforceable legal procedures.

All the best practices in the world aren't going to be much help if there's no visible, consistent, appropriate policy for dealing with bishops and others who ignore them. Silk is encouraged by the presence on the commission of Baroness Sheila Hollins, who, he says, "is notable for calling on the Vatican to punish church officials (read: bishops) who fail to implement or enforce church rules on pedophile priests." And honestly, any lay person -- even a titled one -- should be a big help in reminding the pope and cardinals that attending to the view from outside the Vatican is what matters most if the church is ever going to recover from this blow to its credibility.

Mollie Wilson O'Reilly is an editor at large and columnist at Commonweal.

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