Accountability: Systemic failure in the Church

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Accountability: Systemic failure in the Church

by Russell Pollitt SJ

Accountability. The word I repeatedly heard in a recent conference on the safeguarding of children hosted by the Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar. It is no secret that the most damaging thing that has happened to the Catholic Church in its long history is the sexual abuse of children. This has often been portrayed as the result of some sick men in the priesthood. While that is partly true, there is another side to the coin.

I have been criticised for my critique in this column – mostly by fellow clergy and leaders in the Church. But some things need to be said and need to be repeated again and again. The abuse crisis lays bare the Church’s systemic failure to ensure that mechanisms of accountability are in place and followed. It is no use having accountability mechanisms that do not work in practice. This can be said for almost every level of the system.

There are structures in a parish that parish priests are supposed to be accountable to. The finance committee is one example. There are many cases where priests simply ignore, at best, or defy at worst, the advice that they are given. The same is true for Parish Pastoral Councils.

Some priests say that most damaging and outrageous things from the pulpit and people feel that they are unable to challenge them. In this way, they too do not hold them accountable.

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