Pope sends painfully mixed signals to abuse victims

National Catholic Reporter

Mary Gail Frawley-O’Dea | Sep. 29, 2015

Let’s face it. We all are sick unto death of the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic church. Why can’t we let good Pope Francis have his U.S. visit and just focus on all the incredibly moving moments of compassion, mercy, humility and great importance? Climate change, immigration, capitalism, the poor, the homeless, the imprisoned — for Peter’s sake, John Boehner resigned the day after meeting the pope, apparently deciding his soul was more valuable than his power. So, Francis wasn’t perfect when it came to sexual abuse — he came through in the 59th minute of the 11th hour of his visit, yes?

I get it. I get the deep desire to love this pope unconditionally and just for once in the 14 years since the sexual abuse scandal exploded to stop making such a colossal big deal of the whole topic. I mean, it isn’t even a crisis anymore, right?

But, let’s shrug off the “Francis effect” for a just a minute. Let’s look at the pope’s visit from two perspectives — the victims’ and the factual. Let’s give credit where credit is due and hold his feet to the flames of accountability for the great pain he dished out to victims and for the fury he evoked in advocates.

At The Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, DC, with over three hundred bishops as a captive audience, Pope Francis blew it. Not a word about shame, the need for the bishops to carry a mantle of repentance for their and/or their predecessors’ collusion in enabling abuse and protecting abusers. Not a whisper of the kind of stern admonishments he issued about ecclesiastical materialism, greed, and power mongering. Nope. Not one single word.

Remarkably, the bishops once again were cast as what sounded to survivor ears as the real — or at least the equal — victims of the sexual abuse crisis. Francis said, “I am also conscious of the courage with which you have faced difficult moments in the recent history of the Church in this country without fear of self-criticism and at the cost of mortification and great sacrifice. … I realize how much the pain of recent years has weighed upon you and I have supported your generous commitment to bring healing to victims — in the knowledge that in healing we too are healed — and to work to ensure that such crimes will never be repeated.”

There are very few survivors or advocates in this country who could be anything less than astonished and distraught at the marriage of “courage” and “bishop” as related to sexual abuse. As for generous commitments to bring healing to victims, many of the men present still are authorizing defense lawyers to do everything possible not to offer victims anything tangible. Cardinal Timothy Dolan tried to defer 55 million dollars of Archdiocese of Milwaukee money into a cemetery fund to protect it from victim lawsuits, a move later struck down by the courts. Cardinal Roger Mahony, also in attendance, was relieved of public duties because of his approach to sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Generous healing? I think not.

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