Early Vatican tea leaves: Pope mentions 'pedophilia,' while a public memo includes some land mines

So the tsunami of reporting from Rome has begun.

I hope there are lots of GetReligion podcast listeners reading this latest update on the event now known as “The Protection of Minors in the Church” — previously that was “The Protection of Minors and Vulnerable Adults in the Church” (italics added). If there are, let me note a few predictions about this event that I made in the past (for starters, here, here, here, here and here):

* The emphasis will be on the sexual abuse of “children,” with little or no public discussion of ephebophilia — intense sexual interest in post-pubescent young people.

* There will be some kind of high-profile penitential rite expressing sorrow and seeking forgiveness from victims, in part to help provide visuals for television newsrooms without religion specialists.

* It will be shocking if progress is made on this key issue: Creating procedures for dealing with the sins and crimes of bishops, archbishops and cardinals.

* The key word remains — “seminarians.” That is the door into discussions of secrecy and power networks within the church. What about this word, as well — “McCarrick”?

So now we have the first remarks from Pope Francis, as the event opened for business. The Vatican also handed out a “talking points” document that may have — in terms of public discussions — put several of the hot-button topics into play. Hold that thought.

There is a crucial translation issue in this Washington Post overture.

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis opened a landmark summit Thursday on preventing clerical sexual abuse, saying Catholics were looking to church leaders not for “simple and predictable condemnations” but for “concrete and effective measures” to deal with the scourge. 

“May the Virgin Mary enlighten us as we seek to heal the grave wounds that the scandal of pedophilia has caused” in both children and believers, Francis said, according to an official Vatican translation.

He called sexual abuse a “scourge” and urged the prelates in attendance to “hear the cry of the little ones who plead for justice.” He said the assembled Catholic leaders were obliged to discuss, frankly and in depth, “how to confront this evil afflicting the Church and humanity.”

Ah, as often happens with remarks by Pope Francis, we may have a translation issue. Did he really say this is a “pedophilia” scandal?

At Whispers in the Loggia, the omnipresent Rocco Palmo has posted the official English translation of these brief papal remarks, which end with this statement:

… I ask the Holy Spirit to sustain us throughout these days, and to help us to turn this evil into an opportunity for awareness and purification. May the Virgin Mary enlighten us as we seek to heal the grave wounds that the scandal of paedophilia has caused, both in the little ones and in believers.

Palmo then added the following crucial information:

The moment was punctuated by a notable sight: as the Pope spoke, aides suddenly appeared in the aisles of the Aula, handing out leaflets featuring the mentioned compilation of best practices already being applied in parts of the global church. (Comprising 21 "reflection points" for use in local norms – or, given Francis' endorsement, possibly to appear as universal law in due course. …

That same Loggia post includes an English version of those 21 talking points.

Among those “talking points,” the following leap out at me:

7. Establish specific protocols for handling accusations against Bishops. …

11. To consolidate the collaboration with all people of good will and with the operators of mass media in order to recognize and discern real cases from false ones and accusations of slander, avoiding rancour and insinuations, rumours and defamation. …

13. Establish provisions that regulate and facilitate the participation of lay experts in investigations and in the different degrees of judgment of canonical processes concerning sexual and/or power abuse. …

16. Introduce rules concerning seminarians and candidates for the priesthood or religious life. Be sure that there are programs of initial and ongoing formation to help them develop their human, spiritual and psychosexual maturity, as well as their interpersonal relationships and their behaviour.

17. Be sure to have psychological evaluations by qualified and accredited experts for candidates for the priesthood and consecrated life.

There are — obviously — some landmine issues in there. Will they be discussed in open forums?

By the way, let me offer a flashback for reporters who are new to this topic.

The references to “psychosexual maturity” and “psychological evaluations” will ring bells for reporters have have done their homework on this long, long, long crisis.

All the way back in the mid-1980s, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops spent quite a bit of time — in executive session, behind closed doors — talking about ways to probe the “psychological” health of candidates for the priesthood. Those of us who covered the USCCB in that era used to read the minutes like tea leaves, trying to figure out when the bishops were talking about the sexual-abuse issues.

Over time, it became clear that “psychosexual maturity” and “psychological evaluations” were the code words for discussions of all kinds of hot-button issues linked to abuse, ranging from homosexuality to evaluations of a man’s commitment to celibacy.

That’s all, for now. There will be way too much material to handle, in the days ahead, so please let the GetReligion team know what you see that strikes you (Catholic media pros, in particular) as solid, twisted or just plan shallow.

By the way, I would like to compliment CNN for offering the following timeline graphic that is rather thin, but DOES start in the right place.

Screen Shot 2019-02-21 at 10.56.29 AM.png

Please respect our Commenting Policy