The Pope Causes More Pain for Priests’ Victims
New York Times
January 20, 2018
|Pope Francis arriving in Chile on Monday. |
Pope Francis arrived in Chile with the right message: He was “pained and ashamed,” he said on Tuesday, about the irreparable damage abusive priests have inflicted on minors. Yet he refused to meet with victims of the country’s most nefarious sexual abuser, and when pressed about his support of a bishop linked to that priest, he dismissed the accusations as slander.
For all his professions of horror at the revelations about predatory priests whose activities were covered up by the hierarchy — and for all his other admirably enlightened and pastoral actions — it seems the pope has yet to fully appreciate that the abuse of minors is not simply a matter of a few deviant priests protected by overzealous prelates but of his church’s acceptance of a horrible violation of a most sacred trust: that of a devout and questioning youth and a spiritual guide.
Acknowledging and regretting the damage is not enough. If the Catholic Church is ever to lift the deep stain of child sex abuse, the pope must take every opportunity to reject not only clear violations but also the slightest appearance of tolerance for such behavior.
He missed that opportunity by attending the funeral last month for Cardinal Bernard Law, the powerful former archbishop of Boston who resigned after revelations that he protected abusive priests for years and became, in effect, the image of a hierarchy that concealed and thereby enabled sexual abuse. He missed it in the failure of the Vatican so far to appoint a new Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors after the commissioners’ terms expired in December.
And Pope Francis missed it again in Chile. One of Latin America’s most staunchly Catholic countries, Chile had been shaken by revelations about the sexual crimes of Fernando Karadima, once one of Chile’s most respected and influential priests. It took years for the church to act on complaints about him, but a Vatican investigation in 2011 finally found Father Karadima guilty of sexual abuse and restricted him to a life of isolated penitence. A Chilean judge later determined that the allegations against the priest were truthful, but the statute of limitations had expired.
Among those accused of turning a blind eye to Father Karadima’s behavior was a priest and longtime member of Father Karadima’s entourage, Juan Barros Madrid. Yet Pope Francis made him a bishop in 2015 and, despite protests from victims of Father Karadima and from many priests and laypeople in the diocese, Bishop Barros participated in the pope’s official ceremonies in Chile. When reporters raised the subject on Thursday, Pope Francis answered sharply that there was “not one single piece of evidence” against the bishop. “It is all slander,” he declared. “Is that clear?”
No, it is not clear.
Victims of sexual abuse may have only their tortured memories as evidence, and these have been dismissed for far too long as slander by a hierarchy intent on protecting the church’s reputation. Pope Francis has repeatedly pledged action to end the abuse and the cover-up, and the church has come a long way. But too often he and his church raise doubts that they’re fully committed.