Since reports of clergy sexual abuse first rattled the Catholic Church in the United States in 2002, one mechanism for addressing the issue was offered: transparency.
Transparency, which is defined as allowing light to pass through so that objects behind can be distinctly seen, was first used in the U.S. bishops’ Charter for the Children and Young People, a watershed document that continues to guide the U.S. Catholic Church on the issue of clergy sexual abuse.
“Dioceses/eparchies are to be open and transparent in communicating with the public about sexual abuse of minors by clergy within the confines of respect for the privacy and the reputation of the individuals involved,” states the Charter in section three titled, “To Guarantee an Effective Response to Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors.”
As we learned earlier this summer, transparency was not followed in the case of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, who is accused of sexually abusing a young boy 47 years ago, as well as inappropriately touching some of his seminarians. The retired archbishop of Washington, D.C., continued to shepherd his archdiocese for years, even after passage of the bishops’ Charter in 2002.
Transparency was again brought into question last month following a letter written by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the former apostolic nuncio to the United States. In his letter, which was released by a few Catholic publications on Aug. 26, Archbishop Vigano accused Pope Francis of allowing Archbishop McCarrick to publicly function in ministry despite sanctions imposed by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.
When asked about the accusations made against him, Pope Francis told reporters on a flight back to Rome, following the World Synod on the Family in Ireland, that he would not respond to the claims. He added, “I think the statement speaks for itself, and you have a sufficient journalistic ability to make a conclusion.”
Some have said the pope is avoiding transparency with his reply, while others have said he is refusing to dignify the charges.
In the days that have followed the release of Archbishop Vigano’s letter, in which he also called for the resignation of Pope Francis, the veracity of some of Archbishop Vigano’s claims have been called into question. He said Pope Benedict imposed sanctions on Archbishop McCarrick in 2009 or 2010, but both Benedict and Archbishop Vigano publicly appeared with Archbishop McCarrick in later years. Again, transparency seems to be lacking.
While people in the pews, as well as many ordained ministers, look at these developments with sadness, shame and even anger, there is reason for hope.
In an effort to further transparency in the local church, Bishop David Ricken has announced a series of actions to shed light on how the diocese is addressing the protection of children. These actions follow numerous steps enacted by the diocese over the past decade.
“While we have been working vigorously for many years to be vigilant in these matters and to show loving pastoral care for victims, I am committed to making whatever improvements are necessary to help us reform, learn and grow from this experience,” writes Bishop Ricken.
These steps are an important move toward transparency, and, more importantly, bringing healing to victims/survivors of clergy sexual abuse.