Of course, such measures are themselves subject to abuse, to overreach, to scapegoating, or to becoming a procedural veneer aimed at restoring credibility, without being taken seriously enough to prevent the scourge of child abuse. The U.S. approach is not perfect, and some parts are in need of rather serious reform.
Nevertheless, without a plan to change the praxis and culture of the Church, replacing negligent bishops won't prevent the possibility of sexual abuse in Chile, or anywhere. Those Chilean bishops who remain in office must return to their country and begin developing their own plan - it must be thorough, direct, and just - and then they must have the humility to implement it seriously.
Other regions in the Church would be wise to begin doing the same - no place is immune from the problem of sexual abuse.
But the Chilean bishops are not the only ones with work to do after their historic meeting with the Holy Father. In the Church, the pope exercises supreme, full, immediate, and universal power. He is a figure without parallel in any other institution. He always has the authority to act, and the buck usually stops with him.
The pope thus has questions to answer about his own responsibility for the Chilean abuse scandal. Of course, he has apologized for his "serious errors" in judgment, and now he has called for change in Chile. But do victims- and parents- deserve that he account for those serious errors?
Is it yet understood how he could have received credible allegations in 2015, and discounted them until a media scandal in 2018? Was the pope misled? How? What has he learned from his own "serious errors?" How will he ensure they are not repeated?
The pope told the Chilean bishops that "unacceptable abuses of power, of conscience and of sexuality" have diminished the prophetic vigor of the Church in Chile. He's right. Guilty bishops may never again be credible prophets in their own homelands.
But this scandal, compounded by so many sexual abuse scandals of the past, has diminished the prophetic vigor of the Church globally, and the pope has the responsibility to address that. To do so, he likely needs to address his own role in the scandal, and speak transparently about what happened, and why. He needs to demonstrate more than contrition- he needs to give witness to reform of the judgment that caused "serious errors."
John Henry Newman wrote that God chose men, not angels, to be his priests and bishops, in part so that the entire world could see grace working through sinners, and transforming them. The Church, and the world, need the witness of God's grace, and the witness of real and authentic transformation.
May the pope, who prayed that all victims of abuse would encounter Christ's love, give prophetic witness to his own transformative encounter with the Lord.
This commentary reflects the opinions of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Catholic News Agency.
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