Pope Francis’ words on abuse vary by his audience

Washington Post

By Cathy Lynn Grossman | Religion News Service September 30

As Pope Francis zipped around the East Coast during his U.S. visit last week, his words on confronting sexual abuse were all over the map as well — from praising bishops at the start to warning them at the end after a private meeting with victims.

Why the shifting tenor of remarks?

Different audiences, say church experts and victims’ advocates. …

He sounded “tone-deaf,” said Vatican expert the Rev. Thomas Reese. “Our suffering as priests is nothing like what these poor kids (the victims) or their families went through.”

But church historian Matthew Bunson calculates that Francis was speaking to a new generation of bishops who were cleaning up the mess from their predecessors. The bishops who failed to protect their flocks are long gone — dead or retired.

Bunson, editor of The Catholic Almanac, estimated that less than 10 percent of the 300 bishops who were gathered at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington to hear the pope on Sept. 23 were bishops in 2002 when the scandal erupted.

However, one who was — Cardinal Roger Mahony, retired archbishop of Los Angeles — was sitting front and center alongside others with “dodgy” records, said Terry McKiernan, president of BishopAccountability.org, a website that tracks bishops who some say have failed to protect youth.

“He seemed to be ‘silo-ing’ his audience — not realizing that people from outside this particular silo, the U.S. bishops, would be listening and responding,” said McKiernan.

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