Sex-abuse stonewalling

Vatican needs more transparency, to crack down harder on the abusers’ enablers


A United Nations investigation of the Roman Catholic Church’s clergy sex-abuse scandal should prompt the Vatican to be more transparent and Pope Francis to crack down harder on the abusers’ enablers.

Barbara Blaine, a founder of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), was abused by a priest in Toledo when she was a little girl. Last week in Geneva, she watched an international human rights panel grill Vatican representatives about the church’s lukewarm response to the child sex-abuse scandal.

Ms. Blaine and other SNAP members argue that the Vatican is not honoring its agreement to abide by the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child. The U.N. committee demanded that the Vatican open its files on sex-abuse cases — which it has not done — and improve the transparency of how it handles such cases.

The U.N. panel and other independent, secular bodies must investigate, publicize, and prosecute not only the abusers, but also those who shielded them. The Ohio General Assembly needs to revisit a law it passed in 2006 that failed to extend a statute of limitations for abuse cases, so that cases that came to light years after the fact can still be prosecuted.

The Vatican should release its files on abuse cases, said to number about 4,000. Pope Francis, who has been commended for his open style and symbolic gestures, must pay more attention to the abuse scandal as well.

The Pontiff needs to punish the enablers — church leaders who shielded abusive clergy and moved them from parish to parish, instead of turning them over to authorities. Such behavior suggests that some church authorities viewed themselves as above the law and defined child abuse as a sin, not a crime.

It suggests they cared more about clergy than lay Catholics. When confronted, they concentrated on damage control. David Clohessy, executive director of SNAP, says there were many cases in which U.S. bishops “begged for years” to have a pedophile priest defrocked, yet the Vatican stonewalled.

In 2001, in an apparent reaction to growing outrage, the Vatican ordered bishops to send cases of all credibly accused priests to Rome for review. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops mandated a wide range of reforms at its 2002 meeting. Yet the cover-up has persisted: Only last week, the Chicago Archdiocese released thousands of documents about claims against 30 priests.

Last month, Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley announced the creation of a Vatican commission aimed at protecting children from abuse — the new pope’s first substantive move to confront the issue. But Vatican representatives told the U.N. panel last week they had little jurisdiction to sanction pedophile priests.

Every priest who seeks a return to lay status, or who is ordered to do so because of abuse, must go through an official Vatican body for approval. As the church representatives were testifying last week, the Vatican released a document showing that Pope Benedict XVI defrocked nearly 400 priests in 2011 and 2012 for molesting children.

The denial should stop, transparency should strengthen, and forthright action should accelerate in the Vatican.