Papal Responses to Sexual Abuse in the Church

The New York Times

JUNE 10, 2015

In setting up a Vatican tribunal to discipline negligent Roman Catholic bishops, Pope Francis has taken the most concrete step of any pope in holding accountable church leaders who failed to prevent the sexual abuse of minors by priests. Although Francis and his most recent predecessors, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II, made efforts to punish abusive priests, the tribunal is the Vatican’s first mechanism to punish their superiors.

Here is a look at responses to scandals by the last three popes.

John Paul II

Many of the known cases of sexual abuse by priests took place during the 27-year reign of John Paul II. Despite being widely loved, John Paul II was criticized for ignoring or failing to become aware of the problem. In particular, his long friendship with the Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder of a powerful Catholic religious order, raised questions about whether John Paul was willing to overlook abuse. Father Maciel molested seminarians and young boys for decades. Vatican investigations also revealed that he fathered several children with at least two women.

John Paul II apologized for the sexual abuse of children by priests for the first time in 2001 in an email sent to churches around the world. A year later, the Vatican said it would use ecclesiastical courts to try priests suspected of abuse. But the trials were secret, and critics said they would only reinforce the belief that the church was trying to hide its dark past.

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