Repetitive repentance, no real reform

Recent reports have turned the spotlight back onto the Catholic Church, after over 300 priests have been accused by a Pennsylvania grand jury of sexual abusing more than 1,000 children over 70 years.  In the aftermath, only two charges have been filed, with hundreds of cases deemed too old to prosecute.

While the criminal behavior of members of the clergy has been the subject of decades of dark humor, these reports need to lead to more than slaps on the wrist for the church. Repeated apologies and insistence on gradual reform and eventual redemption is no longer an acceptable pattern. It’s clear that radical and immediate reform in religious hierarchy needs to be implemented in the Roman Catholic Church, and that those in positions of power need to be closely managed and rightfully indicted.

Despite promises of change and stricter restrictions from bishops and religious authority in years past, the Catholic Church has been unable to prevent such abuse and crack down on it. The most recent reports document truly sickening activity—describing the rape of a 7 year old girl, distribution of child pornography and the inappropriate grooming of middle school students.

As with most corruption, the problems in the church aren’t the result of a couple bad apples. These issues are systemic, stemming from the lack of balance in religious authority and monitoring of those in charge. With hundreds of sexual harassments reports from those working under movie directors and business executives, it’s clear that we need to change this unchecked power that leads to extensive corruption and mismanagement.

In the Catholic Church, this power is accompanied by a supposed moral high ground and access to thousands of children— giving pedophiles in the church a clear path to inappropriate behavior.

The church’s religious hierarchy and power dynamic hands predators a position to hide corruption and perversion, where reports of misdemeanor can easily be dismissed by those at the head of the system. While there might be thousands of good hearted bishops and priests, the amount of power given to these individuals allows those with malicious intent the opportunity to hide from society’s scathing eye. There needs to be a way to sustain a balance of power—one where abuse isn’t dismissed, and those in charge are monitored

While the selection of the relatively progressive Pope Francis in 2013 created hope for reform, recent events only emphasize the inability of the church to fix the problem. Decades of clerical power have rejected a more democratic system of religious authority, with past suggestions of democratizing the process of choosing bishops falling short.

In light of the accusations made over the past decade, the church needs to adopt some of these more democratic processes to allow members of the church to feel more secure. The church needs to institute a system where laypeople can check or monitor the power of ordained clergy. Those in charge need to start legally prosecuting those with complaints filed against them, even if they’re no longer a part of the church.

With the safety of hundreds of thousands of children at stake, change is no longer optional for the Catholic Church. The “repentance” of those being accused isn’t an acceptable means of redemption. Those in the Vatican must assume responsibility for changing the hierarchy of the church, and change their hierarchy for the safety of parents and children who choose to remain in the faith.