Pope Francis must reform the Church

A rift has formed within the Catholic Church that pits Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò against Pope Francis. In Aug., the archbishop released a letter alleging that the pope knew about sexual abuse allegations against Cardinal Theodore McCarrick but did nothing about it. He claimed that McCarrick had been previously sanctioned by Pope Benedict, but that Pope Francis restored him to his original position and appointed him a close adviser; Viganò demanded that the pope step down. 

Additionally, a Pa. grand jury report released in August detailed how over 1,000 children were sexually abused by priests in six dioceses. In response, Pope Francis declared that “no effort must be spared” in preventing future abuses; indeed, despite numerous scandals in previous years, it is clear that the Church has not done enough. 

In Pa., senior clergy and Church leadership failed to properly investigate the abuses; instead, they covered them up and transferred offenders to different parishes. What the Church needs is greater transparency. When sexual abuse scandals occur, it is Church officials, not independent outside investigators, who are researching the extent of the crime.

After a 2002 investigation by The Boston Globe revealed abuses involving over 70 priests, dioceses around the country created programs to help victims deal with and recover from abuses. In 2006, U.S. seminaries were changed to encourage a more human development of potential priests studying at seminaries and forbidding any applicants who were involved with sexually abusing children. 

Yet clearly, internal investigations have not stemmed the tide of scandals popping up in the Church. Rather, governments and Church-goers alike must take action in the Church themselves. In N.J. and Pa., states heavily affected by scandals, government investigators have set up hotlines for people to report any information related to cases. These hotlines ought to continue after the investigations have ended: it offers victims a method that goes around the secrecy of the Church. Reforms that address priests’ potential to commit abuse in the future—not only background checks, but also psychological screenings of potential priestscould have a substantial impact. 

In the wake of the scandal, a conference of U.S. bishops announced that they were planning to implement a third-party reporting system within the Church, while also encouraging any victims of sexual abuse to report cases directly to law enforcement. This is one step in the right direction, for the Church is opening up its accountability to outside institutions. With a more transparent power structure, priests would no longer have the confidence to commit such horrific abuses, and Catholics can put their faith back in the Church.