The Vatican's February global sexual abuse summit encouraged Church leaders from around the world to set standards for clergy conduct, and made clear the expectation to cooperate with civil authorities and report allegations of abuse and misconduct.
And even the pope's largely abandoned effort at a tribunal for negligent bishops was an effort to address this issue, established long before the McCarrick scandal brought it to the fore.
For these measures, Pope Francis has mostly gotten high marks for his institutional efforts to address clerical sexual abuse and coercion.
But at the same time, the pope has been criticized for his apparent blind spots: for apparently ignoring, in multiple instances, allegations brought to him personally by alleged victims or by Church officials; for rehabilitating a notorious priest abuser, for finding work at the Vatican for a bishop accused of misconduct; and for being slow, or unwilling, to respond to questions about McCarrick.
To be sure, the pope has acted on personnel. In fact, on Dec. 17, the same day he issued his decrees, Pope Francis accepted the resignation of an apostolic nuncio, or papal diplomat, accused of sexual misconduct. Many observers expect that the resignation paves the way for the nuncio to face criminal charges in France.
Francis has also facilitated the resignation of bishops under fire, like Buffalo's Bishop Richard Malone, and ordered investigations into other bishops, among them Bishop Michael Bransfield of West Virginia.
Still, the central point of criticism for Pope Francis' record on abuse focuses not on his policies, but on his own administrative decisions regarding personnel.
For American Catholics, two such decisions are looming.
The bishop of Crookston, Minnesota is the first U.S. bishop to be investigated under the auspices of Vos estis lux mundi. Bishop Michael Hoepnner stands accused of pressuring a diaconal candidate to recant an allegation of abuse, of failing to exercise sufficient oversight of a cleric on a "safety plan," and of other failures of judgment or administration. Publicly released depositions demonstrate his own admission of failure to follow canonical norms.
Sources in his diocese tell CNA the bishop has almost entirely lost the confidence of his priests, and of lay Catholics in the diocese, as a result of those allegations.
Hoeppner will be in Rome for his quinquennial visit with the pope in January, and American Church watchers will be looking to see whether Hoeppner is, at the point, removed from his office, and if not, what information is provided regarding the results of the investigation of the bishop.
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Americans are even more eagerly awaiting the release of a 2018 ordered Vatican investigation into the career, activities, and influence of former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who sexually abused, coerced, and harassed seminarians, minors, and young priests, according to a Vatican penal process.
The report is an immensely important litmus test of the Church's commitment to transparency; American Catholics have called for answers on McCarrick for 18 months, and have the expectation that the forthcoming report, rumored to be released in January, will actually provide them with those answers.
Whether or not American Catholics will begin to place trust again in their leaders after a tumultuous year depends a great deal on the candor and thoroughness of the McCarrick report.
While the pope's record on policy was burnished by his Dec. 17 decrees, for many Catholics, what matters even more is whether they will finally get answers on the network and influence of Theodore McCarrick.