It’s fair to say that in recent years the Catholic Church has come under intense scrutiny for having been directly involved or implicit in a significant number of high-profile child abuse scandals.
Earlier this year the Catholic Church in Birmingham was embroiled in such a scandal. The Archdiocese of Birmingham was slammed for protecting priests accused of abuse by routinely neglecting to report evidence to the authorities. The inquiry examined 134 allegations of child sexual abuse made against 78 individuals since the 1930s. Most of the people involved are now deceased, but thirteen individuals have been convicted to date. This past August, the Roman Catholic Church in Australia made a shocking decision to allow a convicted cardinal to retain his position in the Church despite being found guilty of abusing two 13-year-old boys. He is so far the most high-ranking Church official to have been convicted of child abuse.
The fallout has been significant. Consequently, Australia’s top attorneys have agreed to standardise laws effectively forcing priests to report child abuse revealed to them during confessions.
Closer to home here in the UK, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, told The Times newspaper that confession is, “a nexus between my sinful humanity and the mercy of God. The history of the Catholic Church has a number of people who have been put to death in defence of the seal of the confession. It might come to that,”*
They are very strong words and outside of these religious institutions, it’s difficult for the average person to fathom. How can the Church and its members take their vow so seriously, to such an extent that they are willing to turn a blind eye to a significant crime like child abuse? The Church will only tarnish its reputation further if it continues to do so. However, in an unprecedented move, and in anticipation of the widening chasm between the church and authorities, the pope has made an official announcement to abolish pontifical secrecy. He is willing to back the authorities who have enshrined into law the practice of enforcing individuals to report child abuse.
It’s a move that draws scepticism and people will inevitably think it’s a publicity stunt aimed at restoring the church’s reputation. However, you see it, the abolition of the culture of secrecy on reporting such cases is a welcome move. Pontifical secrecy is seen by many, including Church leaders to be outdated and needs to change with the times.
The Church is now dealing with its demons at its highest level, as the pope immediately accepted the resignation of Archbishop Luigi Ventura, the Holy See’s ambassador to France, who was accused of molesting children. It truly boggles the mind to think that such a despicable act can be prevalent in religious institutions who are supposed to protect its followers.
In a modern world where everything is connected, it is far too easy for children to fall victim of malicious individuals and predators.