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Pope Francis' efforts to deal with the clergy sex abuse crisis need corrections

By Massimo Faggioli | United States

The synodal process that Pope Francis has launched to make the Catholic Church more transparent and credible is entering its crucial phase. But his pontificate presently risks losing momentum in its fight against sexual abuse and its promotion of a new culture of accountability. This is the upshot of the recent resignation of Hans Zollner, his fellow Jesuit, from the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors (PCPM).The German priest is a theologian and psychologist. He's also a leading safeguarding expert and one of the most respected figures in the Church's response to the clergy sex abuse crisis. That is due largely to the work of the Institute of Anthropology - Interdisciplinary Studies on Human Dignity and Care (former Center for Child Protection), which he directs at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.Zollner is not the only person to point out problems concerning the PCPM in the last few months. Francis created the commission in 2014 and last September he appointed ten new members to the body. But in the first eight years of its existence the PCPM was in something like an institutional limbo. That changed on March 22 when the pope issued the apostolic constitution Praedicate Evangelium and made the PCPM part of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith. However, it's still not clear what this will mean for the commission's efficacy and authority within the Roman Curia. However, there are now are more doubts about that than there were one year ago.The purpose and strategy of the PCPM remains unclear because the very role of the Roman Curia, other Vatican institutions and the legal system per se remain unclear in the current pontificate. The Catholic Church, in fact, has just started to deal with the abuse crisis from a magisterial, theological, and legal point of view. As frustrating or shocking as this might sound, we are still in the early days.An epoch-making cataclysm The sex abuse crisis must be seen as one of the epoch-making cataclysmic series of changes in the history of the Church. To give just one example, at the time of the most earth-shattering event in the history of the modern papacy, the collapse of the Papal States in the 19th century culminating with the loss of Rome to the Italian kingdom in 1870, there were more than fifteen different Vatican tribunals exercising the Church's jurisdiction. There were also the courts of law at the local level. It is not surprising that during his long pontificate (1846-1878), Pius IX eventually had to...


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