Clergy abuse and the upcoming February summit

As events were just getting underway for World Youth Day in Panama City, two U.S. bishops on Jan. 23 addressed the elephant in the room — the resurgence of the clergy sexual abuse crisis over the last year.

According to a report by Catholic News Service, both Bishop Edward J. Burns of Dallas and Bishop Frank J. Caggiano of Bridgeport, Connecticut, speaking at the FIAT Festival for U.S. pilgrims at Panama’s Figali Convention Center, addressed the pilgrims with clarity, frankness and even hope.

“How often do we hear our friends say to us: ‘I’m done, I’m bowing out. I will have no more of this,’” Bishop Burns said. “My friends, I want you to tell your friends that you’d never separate yourself from Jesus because of Judas. You’d never do that!” He continued: “Yes, you look at the Church today, and there have been some who have betrayed us, some even in Church leadership.”

But, he told the pilgrims, “stay strong, stay focused, stay steady,” adding, “we’re going to survive this. Our Lord promised ‘on this rock I will build my Church.’ Step up and continue to have the strength.”

Bishop Caggiano apologized to the young people for when the Church has “failed you, and anyone in the Church has failed you. I am deeply sorry.

“I ask you in this time of shadows and darkness to join with me and all others who wish to move forward and allow our Church to be healed and transformed and purified,” he added.

The remarks of these two Church leaders were a hopeful sign for the U.S. Church. Both bishops were positive while not trying to whitewash over the issues. They spoke seriously but maintained hope for the future. And this, in addition to concrete action, is what people are looking for from the Church. Unfortunately, concrete action seems to be harder to come by.

The addresses of Bishops Burns and Caggiano took place just a month before leaders of bishops’ conferences from around the world are scheduled to convene in Rome for a global summit on clergy sexual abuse.

There has been much emphasis placed on this gathering in recent months, especially following the November general assembly of U.S. bishops, when the Vatican asked them to delay voting on measures that would hold bishops accountable in cases of clergy abuse in light of the February summit.

Pope Francis, though, during his in-flight new conference from Panama to Rome, appeared to downplay the event.

“Allow me to say, that I perceived inflated expectations,” he said. The gathering, he said, will be an opportunity to catechize Church leaders on the tragedy of abuse, to give them protocols to follow and to pray together, asking forgiveness for the whole Church.

All well and good. But for those of us anxious for decisions and actions to help protect our children and to hold abusers accountable, one hopes, too, that it’s an opportunity for definitive forward movement.

Gretchen R. Crowe is editor-in-chief of OSV Newsweekly. Follow her on Twitter @GretchenOSV.