Indeed, for many observers, expectations have been tempered, and the stage does not seem set for a meaningful outcome that addresses the problems faced in recent months in the U.S., in Chile, and in Argentina- problems related to episcopal accountability and sexual coercion.
Leading reform advocates like Marie Collins, an abuse survivor and former member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, have been outspoken and consistent about what they think would constitute real results, including serious mechanisms for holding bishops accountable for negligence, and a redefinition of the category of “vulnerable adult” in canon law. Neither of these appears to be on the docket for next week.
Cardinal Séan O’Malley of Boston, head of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, has himself called for a broadening of the term “vulnerable adult” in law, citing the need to protect those who have suffered from sexualized abuse of authority, like seminarians.
Although he is widely recognized the Church’s most visible and credible advocate for abuse reforms, O’Malley was left off of the organizing committee for next week’s meeting. Meanwhile, it seems unlikely that the definition “vulnerable adults” will even feature in the conversation in Rome.
Several members of the planning committee for the summit, including Fr. Hans Zollner, SJ, and Cardinal Blase Cupich, have indicated that the meeting will treat the abuse of minors only, leaving abusive behavior with adults off the table.
To some observers, this deliberate narrowing of the agenda overshadows the applicability of the summit to the situation of the Church in the U.S., and in countries that have already developed comprehensive policies related to safeguarding minors.
While there is certainly great need to convey the seriousness of the abuse crisis to bishops from other parts of the world, it is questionable how well that can be achieved by a few days’ discussion in Rome.
Meanwhile, in places like the U.S., there is an urgent need to address problems beyond the creation of basic reporting structures.
U.S. bishops are standing by the effectiveness of the Dallas Charter, but looking for a way to address a new set of problems involving bishops’ accountability and the abuse of adults. After being told in Baltimore to wait for Rome to take the lead, some now wonder why their concerns seem not to have made it to the agenda.
At the same time that Rome has been eager to downplay expectations around the abuse summit, curial officials (though not, it must be said, in the CDF) have been talking up a McCarrick conviction and laicization.
It is no secret that, whatever else they may disagree on, bishops in the United States and Rome are unified in understanding McCarrick’s departure as a necessary turning-of-the-page on the scandals of last year and a clearing of the deck before next week’s summit.
But, despite feverish speculation about the timing of an announcement, no decision has yet been published. Moreover, there is no clear indication that any guilty verdict would explicitly include reference to the accusations that McCarrick preyed upon seminarians.
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
At Catholic News Agency, our team is committed to reporting the truth with courage, integrity, and fidelity to our faith. We provide news about the Church and the world, as seen through the teachings of the Catholic Church. When you subscribe to the CNA UPDATE, we'll send you a daily email with links to the news you need and, occasionally, breaking news.
As part of this free service you may receive occasional offers from us at EWTN News and EWTN. We won't rent or sell your information, and you can unsubscribe at any time.
Those victims, to say nothing of seminarians and the faithful across the United States, are waiting anxiously for some sign that their suffering, too, has been addressed. Yet the indications coming out of Rome appear, at best, not to have heard their concerns.
There is no disagreement, anywhere, that a priest (or any adult) who sexually abuses a child has committed one of the worst crimes imaginable. In the context of the U.S. Church, there is no shortage of consensus about how seriously such cases should be dealt with. Where consensus breaks down is at the other end of the age spectrum during adolescence.
Figures from both the United States and other countries indicate that the vast majority of clerical sexual abuse cases concern homosexual relations with teenagers.
While McCarrick faces multiple charges of sexually abusing minors as well as adults, the first accusation made public by the Archdiocese of New York underscores the problematic line between sexual abuse of a minor and an illicit encounter with an adult.
The accusation announced by New York in June concerned a former altar server who alleged he had been abused by McCarrick when he was 17 in the early 1970s.
While this announcement had the effect of prompting additional accusations against the then-cardinal, it was quietly noted by astute canon lawyers that, under the operative canon law of the time, the alleged victim was not – strictly speaking – a minor.