Admitting and recognising a shortcoming is the critical first step towards tackling the malaise. It is true that there has been more than sufficient evidence of sexual abuse by the clergy for the Vatican to abandon its earlier policy of looking the other way; still there is reason to applaud the sweeping changes now ordered by Pope Francis. Henceforth every offence will have to brought to the notice of the Vatican’s police force and no longer will the matter be dealt with at a “local” level, at which it can easily be hushed up. Also significant is that the new regime goes beyond abuse of minors and includes “vulnerable” others ~ the sick, mentally deficient and so on. The revised law also provides for fines and even jail terms. Quite a sea-change from the system in which few dared speak out ~ until the “explosions’ in the United States and Australia rocked the Church as little had ever done before. Alas, perhaps tor technical reasons, the application of the revised regime is limited to offences within Vatican City and its several institutions, and the conduct of the Vatican’s diplomats across the world. Though in absolute terms that number would not be small, it is reduced to insignificance when evaluated against the number of priests, nuns, etc worldwide ~ all of whom supposedly function under the discipline of the Church.

How many of the transgressions ever come to the notice of the Vatican ~ or indeed the “higher ups” at the national level? The real challenge for Pope Francis and his team is to ensure that the provisions of the revised law “trickle down” to the grassroots. For unless that is done no comprehensive cleansing is possible ~ even though the actual number of “black sheep” may not be too worrisome. The Vatican will have to galvanise its Cardinals and Bishops across the globe to crack down on sexual abuse of all kinds, not just paedophilia.

It is a matter of tragic concern that the supervisory mechanism in India has been found wanting. The infamous treatment of the nuns who dared speak up against a “rogue” Bishop is fresh in public memory. Though he has been enlarged on bail his aides continue to wield considerable clout ~ and the Catholic Bishops Council of India has done little to rein them in.

In an Indian context, in which economic factors drive so many women to the convent at a young age, it would be proper for the CBCI to include them in the “vulnerable” section the new Vatican jurisprudence “recognises”. It is cowardly for the CBCI to take a “let the law take it course” approach ~ the case of a Bishop now on bail for alleged rape must be forwarded to the Vatican for appropriate action.