Editorial: Church bears triple shame

There is double and even triple shame in the Catholic Church's involvement in child sex.

First there are the hundreds of priests around the world who abused their positions and parishioners; second the tier of bishops who covered up for the offenders and moved them on to other parishes; and third the non-acceptance of blame at the Vatican.

In the last decade the media and civil courts have more stridently addressed the first two points, but it is only in recent years that the church has addressed the third.

In 2008 the then Pope, Benedict XVI, began meeting victims. In 2010 he issued an outright apology, and also said the church had been neither vigilant nor quick enough in responding to the problem.

His successor Pope Francis has continued that approach, in April of this year taking "responsibility for all the evil some priests have committed" and asking "forgiveness for the damage they've done".

He said he was determined to strengthen child protection programmes and punish offenders, and said the church deserved to be forced to make monetary settlements to victims.

Now he, too, has met victims in a bid to answer criticism that he was failing to act decisively enough. His apologies appear genuine, backed by a commitment to punish offenders.

This is heartening, because the church has a lot of mending to do, and it could not start that until it accepted the damage done.

Increasingly it is doing that.

At the same time it must address why it happened and what will stop it happening again.

Is it the celibate life priests vow to lead, a lack of training and support, the male culture of the church, the power that allowed them to offend, the shortage of priests? Perhaps an element of each.

The public climate that allowed priests and the likes of Jimmy Savile and Rolf Harris to get away with their crimes has changed, but abuse by people in power still happens.

At least within the church now there is an ownership of the problem, and at the highest levels.

Pope Francis has to back up his words with further action to ensure child abuse by priests cannot happen again.

The Timaru Herald