If you read our last blog post, you know that the Catholic Church has been in some hot water these last few months. Most notably, they’ve gained attention from the case of the former cardinal, Theodore McCarrick. The Catholic Church and Pope Francis, in particular, took major steps toward punishing those who have participated in such heinous acts, when he personally defrocked Theodore McCarrick, relieving him of all of his religious duties and titles. What made this different from other instances of defrocking, was that the Pope personally passed this sentence, meaning it could never be appealed.
While this is an unprecedented step towards change and reform within the Catholic Church, the Pope understands that Catholics aren’t just looking for “condemnations” but “effective measures” that will prevent clergy sex abuse and provide the proper punishments and consequences when it does occur.
The claims of child sexual abuse have become so pervasive that the Pope finally made a decision to hold a summit at the Vatican in an unprecedented effort to prevent clergy sex abuse.
Pope Francis invited around 200 participants to the summit including bishops, and other religious officers and offered 21 “reflection points” to those in attendance. These points were meant to be guidelines for addressing the crisis. Some of these points include:
Creating protocols for addressing accusations against bishops
Having candidates for the priesthood undergo psychological evaluations
Establishing an autonomous group that is accessible to victims who want to report a crime
Throughout the summit, five anonymous abuse survivors addressed the group relaying their personal stories of being abused by clergy members. Much of the testimony brought forth at the summit was emotionally charged, both for the victims and the bishops who were imploring the attendance to "listen to the cry of the young seeking justice" and find ways to heal the victims.
The Pope addressed the group by stating that there would be a meaningful assessment of each case regarding facts, which also will include evidence that bishops had participated in covering up claims and attempting to push them aside. Not only will the perpetrators be sanctioned and prosecuted by the Vatican, but anyone within the line of authority who had knowledge of and conspired to conceal the crimes would be punished as well.
What the Summit Did Not Do
The new policy described by the Pope was a step in the right direction for the Church that has been steeped in secrecy since its founding centuries ago, but it stopped short of what victims had hoped would be announced as policy. It is still unclear how willing the Vatican will be in sharing information with authorities in the many countries in which they have a presence. The Catholic Church has a long history of handling their issues within the confines of the Church and in a very secretive manner, but the potential flood of cases in the U.S. puts an entirely new light on the long-running secrecy.
The Church is often against sharing and reporting crimes to civil authorities to protect accused clergy members from being unfairly persecuted in territories where Catholics are a threatened minority.
Clergy Sexual Abuse in Michigan
Although the Catholic Church has a significant presence in the United States, each case of abuse filed by victims now coming forward will be prosecuted according to individual state laws. Even when priests and Church authorities are not punished criminally, there could still be standing for civil claims for the victims. For instance, in most cases, victims don’t come forward until after the statute of limitations has passed which means criminal charges cannot be brought, but victims can still pursue financial compensation for damages incurred from their abuse.
If you or someone you love has been the victim of sexual abuse by a Catholic priest, we encourage you to come forward and bring those responsible to justice. At White Law, we will fight for you to get you the justice you deserve and have been denied for too long. Even if the statute of limitations has passed on your case, you could still be entitled to some financial compensation. By coming forward, you are helping ensure that others will not be subject to this kind of outrageous abuse by showing that these crimes will not be tolerated.