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Opinion Pope Francis demanded ‘concrete’ measures against child sex abuse. Where are they?

Pope Francis celebrates Mass at the Vatican on Sunday, concluding a summit on clerical sex abuse.
Pope Francis celebrates Mass at the Vatican on Sunday, concluding a summit on clerical sex abuse. (Giuseppe Lami/AP)
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WAS THE Vatican’s just-completed summit on child sex abuse, convened by Pope Francis amid a crisis of credibility that has crippled the Catholic Church’s moral authority, really intended simply to prepare the way for genuine reforms in the indefinite future? Victims’ groups had hoped for much more, as had many of the faithful in the United States and elsewhere. They were heartened, briefly, when the pope opened the unprecedented four-day conference by demanding what he called “concrete” measures to deliver something real that would uproot the scourge of clerical sex abuse and hierarchical coverup.

In the end, those concrete measures were a chimera — widely debated, held up to intense canonical scrutiny, but ultimately put off to some future date. The contrast with the pope’s own words could not have been sharper, or more disappointing.

Child sex abuse, the pope declared in his various remarks, is akin to human sacrifice, and the “wrath of God” should be visited upon the “ravenous wolves” who commit it. He called for an “all-out battle.”

His rhetoric suggested a no-holds-barred approach; so did his earlier pledges to apply a “zero-tolerance” policy, meaning, at the least, that any priest credibly accused of assaulting a minor would be removed from ministry.

Yet at the conclusion of four wrenching days in Rome — days when nearly 200 bishops and cardinals heard unstinting testimony and criticism by victims and their advocates — the result was dismayingly vague. What had been held up as a policymaking conference resembled more closely an encounter group, in which awareness was raised, sensitivity enhanced and heartfelt emotions expressed.

That’s not good enough — not for the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, nor for the 70 million in the United States. For the U.S. bishops, the shortcomings in Rome should serve as a gauntlet thrown down. They must act in coming months.

A meaningful and, yes, concrete agenda for the U.S. bishops would start with taking up measures they were on the verge of adopting last November when the Holy See intervened to stop them. That would include establishing a code of conduct for bishops, who have been instrumental in covering up the church’s crimes, as well as a commission of lay Catholics to review allegations of misconduct by bishops. In addition, it would mean reversing the church’s steadfast opposition to changes in state laws that prohibit survivors of pedophile priests from filing lawsuits years after the abuse took place. Moreover, it would mean a shift in rhetoric that would recognize not only the church’s obligation to root out abuse but also its unique history as a haven for abusers.

Let the American bishops act if the pope will not.

Read more:

The Post’s View: The Vatican finally needs to offer more than thoughts and prayers on sexual abuse

Elizabeth Bruenig: Theodore McCarrick has been defrocked. Why did it take so long?

Karen Tumulty: Why am I still a Catholic?

Garry Wills: The Catholic Church is bursting with secrets. Investigating one will unravel them all.

Karen Liebreich: The Catholic Church has a long history of child sexual abuse and coverups