When Pope Francis visits the United States next month, U.S.-based Church reform movement Voice of the Faithful hopes this reform-minded pontiff will hear a wide spectrum of lay voices, particularly about healing wounds from clergy sexual abuse and holding dioceses financially accountable.
We applaud the steps Pope Francis has taken towards needed structural reform: addressing Vatican bank problems, overhauling the Vatican bureaucracy and appointing a council of cardinals outside the Curia as advisors. More importantly, we take hope in steps aimed at bringing justice to survivors and holding bishops accountable: approving a child abuse trial against an archbishop, accepting resignations from four bishops involved in the clergy sexual abuse scandal, accepting two more bishops’ resignations for financial malfeasance, establishing the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors and setting up a tribunal to judge bishops involved in the clergy sexual abuse scandal.
But VOTF sees discontinuities within this reform environment, principally two areas where lay voices can focus needed attention: healing wounds from clergy sexual abuse and shedding light on diocesan finances.
Despite decades of sex-abuse revelations, the Church’s response thus far has conspicuously lacked meaningful healing. So, VOTF is using the Healing Circle model of Restorative Justice to help all those harmed by clergy sexual abuse: the victims/survivors, their family members, faith communities, clergy and the Church itself. We are inviting Pope Francis to participate in a Healing Circle to experience its potential directly.
We also call on Pope Francis and all the faithful to see how the harms from clergy sex abuse will continue until past harm is addressed, all current abuses are exposed and future child protection is ensured. It’s not “over” until all three are accomplished. Directing bishops to take a pastoral approach to the settlement of abuse cases, rather than using legal weapons, would be one significant advance, as would the release of all relevant documents previously shielded and the immediate funding of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.
Regarding diocesan finances, we note that Pope Francis has preached loud and long on the injustice of economic inequality, for example, in his climate encyclical and during his trip to Argentina. With that attitude, perhaps the Pope could endorse a system providing Catholics with a clear idea of where their donations go. As a step in this direction, VOTF has developed a public Internet database to help Catholics do just that, so they can help thwart malfeasance like theft, fraud, donations being spent for purposes other than intended by contributors and paying for sex abuse victims’ silence.
Pope Francis will be welcomed by millions during his U.S. visit, and VOTF would be pleased to see a papal nod toward these issues.
Voice of the Faithful®: Voice of the Faithful® is a worldwide movement of faithful Roman Catholics working to support survivors of clergy sexual abuse, support priests of integrity and increase the laity’s role in the governance and guidance of the Church. More information is at www.votf.org.