Substantial Reforms Needed in the Catholic Church to Protect Children from Abuse

by | May 22, 2024 | Catholic Church

Catholic Church Reform Horowitz Law

Henry David Thoreau once said, “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.” These profound words resonate strongly as we reflect on recent developments concerning the need for reform in the Catholic Church to protect children. The French bishops introduced an unusual church abuse ‘reform‘, which has garnered significant attention and raised important questions about the effectiveness of measures.

According to one newspaper“Catholic priests in France  will be made to wear traffic-light coded identification tags to allow the public to check whether they may have faced sexual abuse charges.” These cards will include a QR code that reflects a red, orange, or green light based on the priest’s clerical status. While this innovative step aims to increase transparency and accountability, the fundamental question remains: Is this enough?

The Need for Effective Measures to Protect Children

At Horowitz Law, we support any measure, no matter how small, that aims to protect children from abuse. Every effort contributes to preventing harm to young bodies, spirits, psyches, and minds. Nevertheless, we have significant concerns about reforms that merely “hack at the branches of evil” instead of “striking at the root.” In other words, we’re not impressed with decision-makers who tinker around the edges of a crisis they’ve caused – especially when they pat themselves on the back for doing something and claim or pretend that their tinkering is a major undertaking that’ll make a difference.

Effective Steps Versus Token Efforts

True reform means taking bold, effective actions rather than making superficial changes that give the appearance of progress. For instance, some church officials have encouraged parishes to install windows in office doors to increase transparency. One example: “The Catholic Church in Hawaii has encouraged churches to install windows in office doors, literally making things more transparent.” Although this could help somewhat, it’s far from a game-changer. More impactful steps, whether it’s ending mandatory celibacy, ordaining women, or defrocking bishops who cover up abuse, could bring about substantial change and be more effective at ending abuse and cover-ups.

 Ineffectiveness of ‘Codes of Conduct’

Church officials often promote ‘codes of conduct‘ that clergy members are required to read and sign. While bishops tout this as steps forward, they fall short in reality. As SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) states, these codes have no real impact on preventing child sex crimes. They serve as PR moves that create an illusion of reform while failing to address the core issue.

“We challenge the ludicrous notion that ‘codes of conduct’ are in any way effective when it comes to child sex crimes. Do (bishops) honestly believe that, years ago, even one confused, sexually troubled priest told himself, “Gee, I’m not sure whether sodomizing a child is right or wrong. My bishop hasn’t made me sign a ‘code of conduct’ forbidding child sodomy, so I guess I’ll go ahead and assault a little girl or boy today.”

“These “codes of conduct” are like much of the bishops’ response to this heinous scandal – it’s a smart PR move that makes people feel good and believe reform is happening. But it has no impact whatsoever in the real world.”

Holding Church Leaders Accountable

One of the root problems is the lack of accountability for high-ranking church officials. There have been very few instances of ex-communication or removal from office for those who violate children or enable such behavior. More stringent measures against these individuals could be far more effective in stopping abuse.

As best we can tell, no Vatican official, cardinal, bishop, auxiliary bishop, or even chancery employee (vicar general, chancellor, etc.) has been excommunicated—or even really ousted from office, booted from the payroll, and critically called out, publicly, by his church colleagues—for violating a child or enabling or ignoring other clerics who have.

Might these types of actions be MORE effective in stopping child sex crimes than a toothless ‘code of conduct that achieves nothing? Certainly.

Misleading Headlines and Minor Reforms

Headlines like “Pope Boosts Vatican Laws Against Child Abuse” or “Vatican Broadens Child Abuse Crimes in Legal Reform” create an impression that monumental progress is being made. However, these so-called reforms often affect only a handful of people and have a limited impact. For instance, new legislation introduced by the pope in 2013 included prohibitions against child pornography and prostitution for those in Vatican City, which covers a mere 0.19 square miles and affects very few people. So ask yourself this: Could the pope tweak a church policy that covers fewer people? We think not.

Getting to the Root of the Problem

The real issue is not the lack of policies but the lack of enforcement and accountability among church leaders. Children are molested in Catholic settings because there are insufficient demotions, defrocking, and public denouncements of these harmful behaviors. Until we get to the root of this evil and significant changes occur within the church hierarchy, superficial reforms will have little impact.

Meaningful Reform in the Catholic Church

For meaningful reform in the Catholic Church to protect children, there must be steps in the right direction aimed at addressing the root causes of abuse. Legal action in both criminal and civil courts remains crucial in pursuing justice and effecting real change. Let us not be content with merely hacking at the branches but strive to strike at the root of this grave issue.

Horowitz Law is a law firm representing victims and survivors of sexual abuse by religious authority figures and numerous sexual assault lawsuits against massage therapists. If you need a lawyer because a member of a religious organization, doctor, professional, or therapist sexually abused you, contact us today at 888-283-9922 or [email protected] to discuss your options today