In a letter published by the Vatican on Saturday, Pope Francis addresses the Catholic Church in Germany. Francis advises the church to avoid "quick fixes" in addressing the abuse crisis.
In the letter, addressed to "the pilgrim people of God in Germany," Pope Francis warns the church that addressing the abuse crisis by "being in order and in harmony" would "numb and domesticate the heart of our people and diminish and even silence the vital evangelical strength the Spirit wants to give us."
"You would have a good ecclesial body that is well organized and even 'modernized' but without soul and evangelical newness; we would live a 'gaseous' Christianity without evangelical bite," he continued.
Right. Good that we have those priorities. Forget working on anything that would protect children from pedophiles, we have to make sure the faith still has "evangelical bite."
I wrote in September about a study in Germany that found between 1948 and 2014, 3,677 children were the victims of "some form of sex attack" carried out by 1,670 Roman Catholic priests. As more and more of these reports and studies are published, the public image of the church, and the perception of Francis's ability to handle it, have crashed.
The study's release in September prompted outrage among Germany's public. Bishops in the German church have had several meetings to discuss how to respond. Some of the suggestions include reviewing the church's rules on clerical celibacy, promoting more women in the church's hierarchy, and reconsidering the church's teaching on sexual behavior and morality. Many of these suggestions have also been discussed elsewhere in response to church scandals in the United States, Australia, and more.
In March, some of the leaders of the German church called for "synodal advancement" and a need for open debates to create "proceedings that facilitate a responsible participation of women and men" from the German dioceses.
A synod in the church is a council or group convened to arbitrate on matters of doctrine, administration, or other church business.
In response to German clergy calling for "synodal advancement," Pope Francis responded that a synod requires a process that must be guided by the Holy Spirit with patience and not a "search for immediate results." Francis also said that in matters such as this, there is a temptation to think that "the best response would be to reorganize things, to make changes and 'fixes' that would allow the life of the church to be put in order and in tune."
Francis emphasized the importance of evangelization. “True transformation responds to and calls for demands that are born of our being believers and of the church’s own evangelizing dynamic,” he said. Evangelization is key, he stressed, but warned against using it as a “tactic of ecclesial re-positioning,” or as a way to “recover habits or practices that give meaning in another culture context.”
I take all this as more of the same from Francis. Over the last several months he has shown again and again that he has no interest in really reforming the church in a meaningful way that protects children from abusive priests. In November the Vatican canceled a vote at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on multiple measures to address the crisis.
In March, the Vatican issued new guidelines for abuse committed by diplomats and Vatican officials to be reported to the Vatican's internal judicial authorities. That news broke just days after the founders and staff of the Vatican's women's magazine, all women themselves, resigned over the Vatican undermining their efforts to report on the abuse of nuns by priests.
In May, Francis issued a new Catholic law that requires clergy to report abuse to their superiors, but not to secular authorities. Which means, in other words, it does not change much.
Pope Francis, and the rest of the Catholic Church's leadership, could not drag their feet more when committing to any kind of meaningful reform that would protect children from future abuse. They want to maintain the status quo as much as possible even as more and more people see the church for what it is, a criminal organization that protects pedophiles rather than children.