Catholic Church called to answer for priest abuse scandal, finally: Editorial, Star-Ledger Editorial Board

After years of high-level obstruction and denial, there’s an air of justification in watching Vatican envoys squirm as a United Nations panel grilled them on the church’s worldwide clergy abuse epidemic. The Holy See’s represenative finds himself in the uncomfortable crosshairs of a high-profile interrogation – a long-anticipated moment for victims of the priests’ abuse.

The U.N. investigation drives home the point – particularly for U.S. Catholics – that priest abuse isn’t a Boston issue, nor an exclusively American problem, but rather a global crisis.

The official Vatican response to U.N. questioning falls short of accepting full responsibility for decades of child sexual abuse by its clerics. But the answers include refreshing pledges, finally, that Rome “gets it.”

In concert with the U.N. probe, Pope Francis delivered powerful remarks about the scandal in his homily during Thursday’s Mass at the Vatican.

Thus, corrupt priests, instead of giving the bread of life, give a poisoned meal to the holy people of God.” – Pope Francis
“Thus, corrupt priests, instead of giving the bread of life,” Francis said, “give a poisoned meal to the holy people of God.”

Will these admissions translate into more accountability, particularly for bishops who have been accused of covering up the priest abuse crisis by silencing young victims and shuffling abusers from parish to parish – and effectively spreading the abuse?

At Thursday’s Mass, however, the pope was joined by Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, the former Los Angeles archbishop who, recently publicized documents showed, also had a history of protecting abusive priests from prosecution.

As with other topics, such as homosexuality and economic inequality, Francis has been blunt and forthright on clergy sex abuse. But now he must show that the Vatican will not only speak loudly against the church’s systemic rape of its children for decades – but also that it will take concrete action to finally put a stop to the abuse and punish those who enabled it.

The pope can be forgiven for looking to a future in which the church will probably be a safer place for children. But he can’t be permitted to let past acts go unpunished so that healing can finally begin.