More than 15 years after Americans learned of gross abuse of children by Catholic priests, this week the Vatican hosts its first-ever summit on the “protection of minors.” For four days bishops from across the world will hear victims’ testimony and recommit to eradicating abuse. Pope Francis deserves praise for convening this gathering, but American Catholics should heed his warning last month to “deflate the expectations.”
This week’s summit will cover well-worn ground for the U.S., where reform already has led to a dramatic decline in priestly predation. And there’s no indication the conference will deal with two related crises that directly bear on the protection of the innocent: unaccountable bishops and priests who break celibacy. These problems also demand the Vatican’s full attention, and everyday Catholics deserve a greater hand in solving them.
American Catholics have been grappling with how to prevent abuse ever since the exposure of grave crimes against minors by priests in the Archdiocese of Boston. It led the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2002 to adopt the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.” The Dallas Charter<https://bit.ly/2Sp7w6U>, as it’s known, instituted a zero-tolerance policy for proven abusers and mandated the immediate removal from ministry of priests credibly accused of abuse. It also ordered the formation of local review boards, run primarily by everyday, or “lay,” Catholics, to create long overdue policies and investigate accusations.