What to Expect After the Vatican Abuse Summit

In his final address at the ‘Meeting on the Protection of Minors in the Church,’ Pope Francis called for an “all-out battle” on child abuse in all its forms. He included in this the exploitation of  children and the sexual trafficking of children, saying that “We are dealing with abominable crimes that must be erased from the face of the earth.”

Many of the faithful who are following the Vatican summit on abuse are wondering what concrete steps will come out of the four-day meeting. Pope Francis acknowledged in his final address that, “The holy People of God looks to us, and expects from us not simple and predictable condemnations, but concrete and effective measures to be undertaken. We need to be concrete.”

Dr. Matthew Bunson stopped by Morning Air® today to discuss the Vatican abuse summit, and shared his analysis on what concrete steps are likely to come out of it.

In his article at The National Catholic Register, Dr. Bunson referred to what he called “The McCarrick Test.” He explained this to Morning Air host John Harper, saying, “In the scandal of now-Mr. Theodore McCarrick, that particular scandal involving a cardinal of the Church, involving one of the most powerful figures in the Church, touched on so many of the issues of the abuse crisis.”

“In 2002, the cardinals back then said that we have a plan going forward, that we can deal with this, especially zero tolerance, and the main figure in making that promise was Theodore McCarrick. So the rightful question is, how can we trust you now?”

As for the various proposals that were presented during the summit, Dr. Bunson said, “Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, who I have to say has been very aggressive and determined in trying to get some sort of norms going forward for the accountability of bishops, he will be moving into action with the whole administrative machinery of the USCCB to look at specific proposals coming out of this gathering.”

Of course, when it comes to discussions about sexual abuse in the Church, the testimony of the victims must be at the forefront of everyone’s minds. Dr. Bunson shared that this was something the Vatican summit really did right, keeping the witness of victims front and center.

“Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai, India made the comment that he was absolutely stunned into silence by the testimony,” Dr. Bunson said. “And reading it is, even for somebody like myself who has covered this crisis since 2001, we can see the voices of victims being heard throughout this summit.”

Coming out of the summit, there is still work to do to provide the concrete steps that Pope Francis has called for. And there is a clear mandate to get it right, and apply norms that will be effective in protecting minors and vulnerable adults, and in holding bishops accountable. Dr. Bunson explained what he would define as ‘getting it right’ in this particular moment of the abuse crisis.

“Get it right, in this case, would have to be able to point to the same kind of progress and holding bishops accountable that we’ve had in dealing with the clergy abuse crisis since 2002, with regards to priests and deacons,” he said. “I say that because the objective reality is that, courtesy of the audits and every statistical form that we have of measuring our progress, cases are down now to the single digits. And one case is too many, but that really is progress.”

“In order for minors and vulnerable adults to be safe, as safe as we can make them, there’s still a lot of work to do,” he continued. “Now, we have to apply that to the level of the bishops. But that’s going to require close cooperation and collaboration among the bishops themselves with the Holy See. And that’s why collegiality was stressed so readily during the summit. Everyone has to be working on this together, especially in terms of leadership of the Church. And that must involve lay people and the victims themselves.”

Listen to the full conversation with Dr. Matthew Bunson below:

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Stephanie Foley serves as a Digital Media Producer at Relevant Radio®. She is a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, where she studied journalism, and she has worked in Catholic radio for 12 years. Stephanie is a wife, a mother of three boys, and in her free time she enjoys reading, running, and really good coffee. You can find more of Stephanie’s writing at relevantradio.com and on the free Relevant Radio mobile app.