Has the Catholic Church Successfully Reformed Itself in the Wake of the Sexual Abuse Scandals?

Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI

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This question originally appeared on Quora.

Answer by Eric Stoltz, Deacon of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles:

There have been both reforms and intransigence.

Luckily, the reforms have taken root at the most local level where children are involved, and the intransigence remains at the top levels in Rome where curial officials are totally out of touch with anyone outside their own little world and irrelevant to your own experince.

At your local parish, you are likely to encounter many meaningful prevention measures that were put in place as a response to the abuse crisis. Chief among these are requirements that clergy and parishioners involved in ANY ministry that may involve any contact with a child, however fleeting (teachers, ushers, parents leading altar server groups, etc.), are likely to be fingerprinted, screened, and undergo training to recognize and report flags that indicate possible abusive situations. In parishes that comply with all the new guidelines, your children are now probably safer than in any other setting. To find out what your own parish has done to prevent abuse, ask about the program, generally called Safeguard Our Children or something similar.

The training programs offered by Catholic parishes now are so widespread and considered so helpful that non-Catholic churches frequently send their parishioners to the Catholic training programs. In most dioceses, clergy are required to repeat this training every so many years or face often severe punishment, such as the suspension of faculties (having permission to preach and celebrate the sacraments revoked by the bishop). Prevention measures by U.S. dioceses are tracked by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which conducts regular audits to ensure that all parishes are in compliance, and the audit results are published.

Many parishes have remodeled offices to prevent physical arrangements that can be conducive to abusive situations, such as making sure all meeting room doors have windows and that no parishioner involved in any ministry is ever alone with a minor; generally we insist that two adults are always present.

The reforms, however, have not included mindset changes in clericalist culture in the Vatican and other conservative enclaves such as the Diocese of Lincoln, Neb., the most conservative diocese in the United States, where the bishop has refused to implement any of these preventive measures. In such places, the abuse crisis is generally blamed on the media, or gay people, or society at large, or the 1960s, even the Second Vatican Council—anything but corrupt clerical culture.

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