2018 was the year that many Catholics finally accepted that the church’s sex-abuse crisis is truly a global problem. Hence the Vatican’s decision to bring the presidents of all the bishops’ conferences together in Rome to discuss the issue between February 21 and 24.
The abuse crisis forces us to look at the interconnectedness of the church, and to resist the spirit of our time, which not only closes borders and builds walls, but also blinds us to how what’s happening in one part of the world relates to what’s happening in another. Of course, we Catholics have all been taught that the church is the Body of Christ, and that if one member of that body suffers, the entire body suffers. We know this, but we also forget it. In recent years, each member has seemed preoccupied with its own suffering. The sex-abuse scandal in America or Chile or Australia reverberates in other parts of the world. And the abuses that have not yet come to light in other countries—because of cultural and political differences, as well as different levels of media scrutiny—will likewise affect Catholics in the United States once they are finally revealed. This is one reason the meeting in the Vatican is likely to focus more on those countries where the abuse crisis has not yet erupted and those churches that have yet to develop their own reforms for preventing, detecting, and responding to abuse.
Last year was a watershed. The revelations in Chile and the United States especially called into question the role of the Vatican and the pope in the global crisis. They also weakened the credibility of the bishops in dealing with the crisis. Various groups of lay Catholics, with various agendas, have stepped forward offering to take a leadership role in addressing the crisis.