Many Catholics call for dramatic change after latest sex abuse revelations

By | August 23, 2019

JUDY WOODRUFF: As we reported earlier, Pope
Francis directly addressed the latest findings of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church today. In a letter he released to Catholics around
the world, the pope wrote of what he called past atrocities and said: “We showed no care
for the little ones. We abandoned them.” He also called for greater accountability. Now, as John Yang tells us, many are saying
much tougher steps must be taken, ones challenging the church’s very hierarchy. JOHN YANG: Judy, in his letter to the faithful,
Pope Francis said that changing the church must involve the active participation of all
Catholics. He said: “No effort must be spared to create
a culture able to prevent such situations from happening, but also to prevent the possibility
of their being covered up and perpetuated.” A letter from theologians, educators and lay
leaders calls for a dramatic first step: the resignation of all U.S. bishops. That letter now has more than 2,400 signatures. One of the signers is Douglas Kmiec, a law
professor at Pepperdine University and former dean of the Law School at Catholic University
of America. We are also joined by Kathleen Sprows Cummings,
a historian of Catholicism who teaches at the University of Notre Dame. Mr. Kmiec, I would like it to start with you,
with that letter, very tough words — tough words in that letter. You talked about the catastrophic scale, the
historic magnitude of the abuse. Why ask for all the U.S. bishops to submit
their resignations to Pope Francis? DOUGLAS KMIEC, Pepperdine University Law School:
Well, because we really need to have a clean slate. We need to have an act of contrition, as it
were, that is felt and actually has an effect upon the church’s direction. If you think about this, John, there’s three
levels to correcting. One is the parish level where the abuse occurs. One is the episcopal level, the leadership
of the church in terms of bishops and archbishops and cardinals. And there is the highest level of all, the
pope and the Vatican. Each one of those levels has to be addressed. But it’s only going to happen if the church
owns up to the problem being a systemic, cultural problem within its own tradition. And that requires the resignation of all of
the episcopate, giving the Holy Father the opportunity to keep those who have maintained
the faith, but to exclude those who have not. JOHN YANG: How likely do you think that is,
Mr. Kmiec? DOUGLAS KMIEC: Well, this is — there is a
precedent for this. The Holy Father himself showed what an open-minded
and powerful figure he was when he went to Chile. And there were enormous about abuse in Chile
and about their — about the bishops covering up. At first, the Holy Father said, oh, these
are just distorted news accounts, they’re picking on the church. But then he brought in Archbishop Scicluna,
a close personal friend and adviser, who did an examination and said, no, this is really
something where the bishops themselves have been actively hiding and covering up the evidence. For the institutional good of the church,
the Holy Father then changed course altogether, and he was offered the resignation of all
34 bishops in Chile. He accepted only three. But that was an important gesture to give
the Holy Father that opportunity to clean the slate. JOHN YANG: Kathleen Cummings, over the weekend,
you had an op-ed in The New York Times. You said the time for gradual reform was over. You said it is time to rip off the tablecloth,
hurl the china against the wall. What would you like to see happen? KATHLEEN SPROWS CUMMINGS, University of Notre
Dame: I agree wholeheartedly that it’s time for dramatic gestures. And I didn’t sign the petition, not because
I didn’t agree with it, but what I was calling for in that editorial and what I wanted to
hear from bishops was the spirit of penitence and humility that in fact Pope Francis talked
about in his letter, and would have loved to have seen them voluntarily resign, rather
than responding to a call from the laity. More than that, though, I think that if the
bishops were to resign, and several or all of those resignations were accepted, they
would be replaced with other bishops. They would be replaced with priests who would
be ordained bishops who are coming out of the same culture that I think this most recent
report has made clear is the culture that is responsible, not only for the abuse, but
for the many years of cover-up. And I think prepare Pope Francis also acknowledged
Pope Francis also acknowledged that in his letter today, when he blamed the problem,
really identified the root of the crisis in a clerical culture. JOHN YANG: So how do you go about that, Professor
Cummings? How do you go about changing that culture? KATHLEEN SPROWS CUMMINGS: To run with the
image of the table, which I use, we have — many Catholics have grown up with the assumption
and the recognition that it is always the bishop that is at the head of the table, the
bishop who always at diocesan levels in charge. In parish levels, it is the priest. And I think that what we need to see is that
laypeople recognizing that we are the church as well and naming that and, as Pope Francis
said in his letter to the people of God, finding ways to not just reset the table and move
things around, and not just join bishops at the table, but really change the way the table
is figured. And so what I would like to see our commissions
that investigate abuse in other dioceses in the country, oversight committees that are
run by laypeople that don’t have to have a bishop at the head in order to give it credibility. I would like to see people think. I wrote in my op-ed about growing up in a
culture in which father, monsignor or bishop were automatically assumed to be immune from
criticism. And in that sense, what moved me to write
it was my own complicity in this culture and my own sense, not as an abuser, but someone
that was part of a culture that supported it. And I think that’s what’s new about Pope Francis’
letter, what I heard in it that was different from other responses, an acknowledgement that
this is the problem with the church. JOHN YANG: Douglas Kmiec, you talked — let
me return to that letter. He talked — the pope in his letter talks
about sort of the clericalism, the focus on the church, rather than on the lay community. How much confidence do you have in Pope Francis,
that he can turn things around? DOUGLAS KMIEC: Well, he obviously is a person
who has a great deal of good will. He has shown himself to be a person who’s
not judgmental, who is open-minded, and who is willing to go down new directions. And Professor Cummings has put her finger
on it. It’s not just addressing this specific problem
of a specific person who’s been hurt. Obviously, that person needs great care and
great compensation and great kindness on the part of the church, not being rebuffed or
hidden away or told that maybe he misunderstood something. So, on the parish level, we have to make sure
that the victim, the person who’s been abused, has been helped. At the episcopal level, they have to be constantly
of the mind that the investigations that Professor Cummings talked about are being responded
to. And then, at the larger level, at the Vatican
level, here’s where Pope Francis is the kind of person who’s creatively thinking about
the future of the church. To what degree is this problem related to
gender? To what degree is this problem related to
the fact that there is no real married priesthood in the context of the church? Now, these are bigger questions and profound
doctrinal questions. But they interrelate with this one, because
90 percent of the cases that are here are cases that are aimed at males, especially
male adolescents, middle years and later. And, obviously, if you have a seminary that’s
built all around a male culture, which has all of the associated gender problems with
that, you’re not actually getting at the root of the difficulty. I think Pope Francis is the person who’s the
right pope at the right time to address those issues. JOHN YANG: Big questions, indeed. Unfortunately, we have run out of time. Douglas Kmiec, Kathleen Sprows Cummings, thank
you very much.

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