Pope Meets with Clergy Sex Abuse Victims
Statement by Anne Barrett Doyle
An archival organization that gathers documents and data about the global Catholic abuse crisis
July 7, 2014
Though overdue, Pope Francis's meeting today with clergy sex abuse victims was a positive and necessary step. The Pope’s homily shows some readiness to be transformed by his encounter in Rome with the survivors, and makes several important points – he emphasizes the specifically Catholic nature of abuse by priests, and the terrible impact of abuse on the victims’ families, and the role of “Church leaders.” (See the English and Spanish text of the Pope's homily.)
Most notably, the pope made a significant and historic promise to discipline bishops who fail to respond adequately to child sexual abuse: "All bishops must carry out their pastoral ministry with the utmost care in order to help foster the protection of minors, and they will be held accountable."
While the pope's description of bishops' culpability as "sins of omission" is inaccurate in the extreme, his is still a stern and specific acknowledgement that bishops must ensure the safety of children.
But now Pope Francis must internalize and personalize his point about Church leaders who "did not respond adequately to reports of abuse." His future actions on this crucial point must begin from his own past.
As Argentina's most powerful archbishop, he refused to meet with victims, and he stayed largely silent on the issue of clergy sex abuse, except to issue a surprising denial that he had ever handled an abusive priest. His only known action was to commission a behind-the-scenes report to judges that sought exoneration of a criminally convicted priest by impugning the credibility of the priest's victims.
Avoidance, silence, and denial were successful containment tactics in Latin America, but they will not work on the global stage, and they are not consistent with the mercy and compassion so evident in Francis's papacy.
Although his record on abuse is not encouraging, it is possible that Pope Francis will allow his first meeting with victims to radicalize him. The test of his sincerity will be the actions he now takes. We will have some reason for hope if:
1) He quickly schedules a second meeting to include the Argentine victims he ignored when he was their spiritual leader.
2) He demonstrates transparency with one or two significant directives. He should immediately order the release of the Vatican abuse documents currently being withheld from Australia's Royal Commission. He should also order the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to release the names, assignment histories, and full case files of all 848 priests who were laicized in the last decade. He thereby would make common cause with abuse victims worldwide, as well as the 30-plus U.S. bishops and religious superiors who already have published the names of credibly accused priests.
3) He changes canon law to require bishops and religious superiors worldwide to report suspected child sexual abuse to civil authorities. The two recent UN hearings have drawn attention to the Holy See's policy of allowing bishops not to report if local law does not require them to do so. This laxness has had devastating results: In countries with weak reporting laws, abusers are staying in ministry, and children are still at risk. In 2013, a criminal court in Argentina had to dismiss a case against a priest who had abused up to 50 boys; the statute of limitations had expired because his archbishop, Cardinal Estanislao Esteban Karlic of the Parana archdiocese, had refused to report the priest’s crimes in 1995. The cardinal instead allowed the priest to move to another Argentine diocese, where he became pastor of a parish. The cardinal's lawyer applauded the dismissal of the case, saying, “Parents should have made the complaint.”
4) He removes and disciplines church leaders who themselves have abused minors and vulnerable adults; and he follows through on his promise today to discipline the many more bishops and religious superiors who even recently have enabled child sexual abuse through their negligence or deliberate cover-up. And he must not limit his gaze to the Europe and US. For example, in addition to the criminally convicted Bishop Robert Finn of the diocese of Kansas City-Saint Joseph, he should censure his former colleague, the aforementioned Cardinal Karlic. This would signal his recognition of the particularly acute absence of transparency and accountability that persists in his home country and throughout much of Latin America.
Founded in 2003, BishopAccountability.org maintains the world’s largest archive of documents on the problem of clergy sexual abuse, outside the Holy See’s own archives. We conduct research on child abuse by priests and religious and on the management of those cases by bishops and their staffs, superiors of religious orders, and the Holy See. An independent non-profit based in Waltham, Massachusetts, USA, BishopAccountability.org is not a victims' advocacy group and is not affiliated with any church, reform, or victims' organization.
Contact for BishopAccountability.org
Anne Barrett Doyle, Co-Director, BishopAccountability.org, firstname.lastname@example.org, 781-439-5208 cell
Terence McKiernan, President and Co-Director, BishopAccountability.org, email@example.com, 508-479-9304
BISHOPACCOUNTABILITY.ORG'S SPECIAL REPORT
AND OTHER RESOURCES ABOUT THE POPE'S RECORD IN ARGENTINA
• Pope Francis in Argentina
• Profiles of Argentine victims who tried to contact the pope
• Letter to Pope from Argentine victims, sent 7/5/2014
• Cardinal Bergoglio's statement that he never handled an abusive priest in the Buenos Aires archdiocese
• Database of accused priests of Argentina