Not all church reforms are equal or advisable

“Reform” is the mantra on all lips. The summer of hell for the Catholic Church, in which the clergy sex abuse crisis of 2002 came roaring back onto the front pages after the removal of former-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick first from ministry and then from the cardinalate, followed by the Pennsylvania grand jury report, has led to this call for change and reform from every wing of the Catholic Church. But not all reforms are equal and not all are advisable.

The Holy Father announced this week that he is summoning all of the heads of the world’s episcopal conferences to Rome for a meeting next February. They will focus on the issue of sex abuse. “If they’re putting this off, planning it for five months, it better not just be more talking,” Peter Isely, a founding member of Ending Clergy Abuse, a global survivors and activists group told the Washington Post. “There’s this disconnect between how grave this is and then this pace with which they move.” Alas, Mr. Isely is right: Roma aeterna does not only mean the great city is eternal, but that it seems to take forever to get anything done.

Coverage of the explosive Viganò dossier focused on the allegations the former nuncio made and on the score settling that seemed to take up at least eight of the nine pages. But, what that dossier also showed is what the pope is up against. It is easy for columnists in the states to complain about the slow pace of reform, whether the issue is clergy sex abuse or the Vatican’s notoriously opaque finances. But Viganò unwittingly showed the degree to which the Vatican Curia is a hotbed of rivalries and gossip, the divisions not breaking down along ideological or partisan lines only. For example, Viganò praised his mentor Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, and did not even mention another Re protégé, Cardinal Justin Rigali. But Re was part of the regime of Pope John Paul II that set the pattern other bishops followed in dealing with clergy sex abuse: Refuse to meet with victims, discredit their testimony, cover-up for criminals and their criminal acts, tell bishops not to be too tough on their priests, hold no bishop accountable, protect the institution at all costs.

The Vatican has gotten better at dealing with sex abuse. For two pontificates running, zero tolerance has been enforced against priests who abused children. And, while Pope Benedict could not bring himself to discipline bishops for neglect, Pope Francis sacked Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul-Minneapolis, and the entire episcopal bench in Chile for their mishandling of abuse. (Nienstedt also stood accused of misconduct towards adult subordinates, a charge he denies.) And, Francis, we should recall, is the one who finally took action against McCarrick.