Benedict and Sex Abuse Survivors

I think most people involved in this movement-whether they be survivors, doctors, advocates, lawyers, priests, or bishops don’t know where Pope Benedict’s actions this week will lead. On the one hand, his words and actions could be a slick PR maneuver designed to put this crisis to bed without doing anything for survivors. On the other hand, Benedict may have said and done some significant first things for survivors and their advocates. If the former is the case, let it be known that those of us advocating on behalf of these courageous survivors will not give up and will not be silenced. We will continue to fight for justice in the courts. If the former, Benedict has surely underestimated our resolve and determination.
However, if the latter is the case we’re in unchartered waters. Could it be that Benedict has given the US bishops a new mandate to deal with survivors in a truly just and pastoral fashion? In his Washington speech to the US bishops he seemed to indicate that he now rejects the old “duck and cover” routine of the bishops. The “blame the media” campaign waged for so long by the US bishops seems to have run its course. Even William Cardinal Levada, Benedict’s replacement as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and chief overseer of priest molesters, said this week that church officials were considering changing church law as to how abuse cases are handled. Levada did not give specifics but it is thought that he may consider opening up the canonical statute of limitations for abuse cases. If you consider how slowly church law changes (once in the last century), this could be a remarkable development.
We don’t know how or if the US bishops will respond to the Pope’s actions or his statments. We’ll have to wait and see. In the meantime, those of us working on behalf of survivors will press on. We’ll continue to demand access to the secret files, we’ll continue to expose priest perpetrators and fight for survivors’ rights. In the end, it’s not just the only thing to do, it’s the right thing to do.