Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Another Day, Another Watershed – Pope Calls "Synod" on Abuse

Lest anyone missed the message earlier, again, welcome to Crunch Time... and right on cue, yet another game-changing development has dropped.

Ostensibly driven by the Pope's "Gang of Nine" cardinal-advisers, the following statement was released shortly after Roman Noon this Wednesday:
The Holy Father Francis, after hearing the Council of Cardinals, has decided to convene a meeting with the presidents of the Episcopal Conferences of the Catholic Church on the theme of the “protection of minors”.

The meeting with the Pope will be held in the Vatican from 21 to 24 February 2019.

During [its] 26th meeting, which took place from 10 to 12 of this month, the Council reflected extensively together with the Holy Father on the theme of abuse, issuing the Communiqué published by the Holy See Press Office on 10 September.
* * *
While the term wasn't used in the release, the summons of the conference presidents from across the global church is tantamount to an Extraordinary Synod of Bishops – in that format, employed only three times since 1965 (and reserved for pressing situations of universal import), the heads of the national benches are the core ex officio participants; unlike an ordinary Synod, no elected delegates are present.

Notably, a proposal for just that kind of gathering was raised by a key US voice last month – a former USCCB child-protection chair and vocations czar, Bishop Ed Burns of Dallas signed a joint letter alongside his Consultors and presbyteral council asking Francis to call an extraordinary assembly that would accomplish "systemic change," focusing on "the care for the safeguard of children and the vulnerable, outreach to victims, the identity and lifestyle of clergy, the importance of healthy human formation," then going on to "address abuse of power, clericalism, accountability and the understanding of transparency in the church."

With the pontiff now set to receive the USCCB leadership for crisis talks tomorrow, by default, the key figure of the new global push is already slated to be in attendance: Cardinal Seán O'Malley OFM Cap. of Boston, who Francis tapped to lead a new organ on the topic in 2014, with an unusual direct report to himself.

While the Capuchin prelate has come under successive rounds of criticism in recent weeks over the handling of specific allegations referred to his office – which don't fall under the purview of the commission he leads – today's announcement signals a papal vote of confidence in O'Malley's efforts, and quite possibly a direct response to the cardinal's strikingly public call last week for Francis "to break through the bureaucracy and implement significant change."

Speaking of Synods, while not formally named as one, the February gathering will nonetheless be the second synodal gathering of 2019, with next October's assembly on the Amazon already well in the preparation. And of course, next month brings the long-planned assembly on young people and vocations, whose focus has taken on a new dimension amid the abuse storm.

As ever, more to come.