Jesuit Priest: Vatican Sex Abuse Summit Doomed to ‘Fail’

TOPSHOT - Pope Francis is greeted by bishops at the end of his general audience at St Peter's Square at the Vatican on January 31, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / FILIPPO MONTEFORTE (Photo credit should read FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images)
FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images
THOMAS D. WILLIAMS, PH.D.

A prominent American Jesuit priest said Friday he believes that an upcoming Vatican summit on clerical sex abuse “will fail” because it will not deliver what abuse survivors, the media, and the faithful are hoping for.

Writing for Religion News Service (RNS), Father Thomas Reese, former editor-in-chief of America magazine, said next month’s meeting called by Pope Francis to deal with the sex abuse crisis could “be a failure before it even starts” and offers five reasons for his pessimistic forecast.

The first reason the summit will fail is that “four days is much too short a time to deal with such an important and complicated issue,” Reese writes. The program for the event is far too ambitious and as such will barely scratch the surface, he suggests, since if each participant speaks only once for five minutes during the plenary sessions, “that would consume over 12 hours — almost half the time for the meeting.”

The second reason the convention is doomed to fail is that “the expectations for this meeting are so high that it will be impossible to measure up.”

The Vatican sidelined the efforts of U.S. bishops to pass several new anti-abuse measures in November, Reese notes, and if the Vatican meeting fails to hold bishops accountable “it will make the excuse look unwarranted and phony,” and yet this is the most likely outcome.

The third reason Father Reese expects failure is that the heterogeneous mix of bishops coming from very different cultures and legal systems “will make agreement on policies and procedures difficult.”

“Many bishops in the Global South do not believe that sex abuse of minors is a problem in their countries. They see it as a First World problem,” he said.

The fourth reason for the upcoming debacle is that “the meeting is not well-prepared,” Reese said, contrasting the slapdash preparations of the summit with the lengthy process involved in preparing for a Vatican synod.

The fifth reason the meeting will fail is because Francis will not “lay down the law” and tell the bishops what to do, which would be the effective way of dealing with the problem, Reese says.

Sex abuse victims and the media “are rightly impatient,” Reese said. “They are not looking for another discussion and pious talk, but concrete policies and procedures that will protect children and hold bishops accountable.”

“I hope I am wrong in being such a pessimist,” Reese concludes. “Francis may pull it off, but I fear that when the meeting is over, it will only be seen as a small step forward in an effort that is going to take years.”

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