When a top papal advisor earlier this week suggested that Catholic prelates “exit” the clerical abuse scandal, in order to lift the “cloud” hanging over the Church, there was an understandable uproar from victims.
In effect, the resulting controversy involving Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, head of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, is a clear illustration of the pressures the abuse crisis has generated - both on victims, who want to be heard and not dismissed, as well as on Church officials, who feel the crippling effect of the crisis and want to see the Church get up off the mat.
In such a context, sensitivities are on high alert, something Turkson discovered the hard way on a recent trip to Ireland, home to one of the most damaging clerical abuse scandals anywhere in the world.
Speaking during a keynote address at the fall conference of the Association of Leaders of Missionaries and Religious of Ireland (AMRI) in Dublin, Turkson called the global clerical abuse crisis a “sign of the times.”
Turkson told attendees he glimpsed the impact of the scandals during the 2012 International Eucharistic Congress and the 2018 World Meeting of Families, both held in Dublin. He said that during the 2012 event, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin offered an apology for clerical abuse during basically every event he attended.
“At one point, I thought it was too much. I thought he was making this huge cloud hang over everything,” Turkson said, explaining that he understands victims’ pain, but said, “Now we need to find a way of exiting this experience, [because] otherwise it will suffocate us.”
Several clerical abuse survivors took to Twitter to criticize the cardinal after the comments went public.
Marie Collins, an abuse survivor from Ireland and a former member of the Vatican’s Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors who in 2017 resigned in frustration over perceived inaction, issued two separate tweets.
If Turkson wants an exit strategy, Collins wrote, “He should recommend the Church institute a transparent process of accountability for negligent/corrupt bishops, deal with the huge backlog of abuse cases lingering in the CDF, put in place universal mandatory reporting to civil authorities…stop fighting the extension of statutes of limitations, put in place strong normative child safeguarding policies in every country, stop the use of pontifical secret in abuse trials and implement REAL zero tolerance in all cases of a guilty perpetrator.”
And this, she said, is “just for a start.”
Colm O’Gorman, an Irish clerical abuse survivor who is now Dublin Executive Director of Amnesty International and founder of the One in Four organization, also took to Twitter to convey his dismay.
“Cardinal Turkson is a prime example of why the institutional church will likely never recover from the collapse caused by its cover up of the rape and abuse of countless child [sic] and vulnerable adults,” O’Gorman wrote. “They don’t get it, because they won’t. They do not care.”
O’Gorman, who led several counter-rallies during Pope Francis’s 2018 visit to Ireland for the World Meeting of Families, in a separate tweet praised Martin for having “shown enormous compassion, courage and humility in his efforts to fully and properly address the cover up.”
“It’s a tragedy,” O’Gorman said, “that @Pontifex & his fellow bishops don’t have the same courage and integrity.”
Mark Stephan Murray, who claims to have been repeatedly sexually abused by a Comboni missionary priest in a seminary in Mirfield, Yorkshire, in the 1970s, also sent a tweet about Turkson’s comment, asking, “How can the Cardinal apologize too much? Lives & families were destroyed by the abuse and the systemic cover up of the abuse by many in the Church.”
As of press time, neither Turkson nor Martin had commented on the flap over Turkson’s comments.
Though the 71-year-old Turkson has never played a prominent role in shaping Church policy on sexual abuse, he did stir controversy in 2013 by appearing to link the abuse crisis with homosexuality.
“African traditional systems … have protected its population against this tendency,” he said in an interview, adding that “in several cultures in Africa homosexuality or for that matter any affair between two sexes of the same kind are not countenanced.”
In a 2018 interview with Polish television, Turkson argued that too many good priests have been tainted by the scandals.
“We cannot throw away the linen with the dirty water,” Turkson said in an interview with Polish Television TVP1 that aired on Sunday. “We have to do something to recognize that there are bad priests, but there are also good ones.”