Is Francis actually backsliding on punishing abuse?

National Catholic Reporter

Michael Sean Winters | Feb. 28, 2017

The headline was alarming: “Pope Francis quietly trims sanctions for sex abusers seeking mercy.” The reporter, Nicole Winfield of The Associated Press, is one of the most respected in the religion news business. But is it so?

The clergy sex abuse story is the ugliest in the recent history of the Catholic church. Under St. Pope John Paul II, a serial abuser like Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder and head of the Legionaries of Christ, was not only unpunished, but he continued to receive support and even adulation at the Vatican. Pope Benedict XVI began a serious crackdown on clergy sex abuse, one of the real achievements of his pontificate.

Those of us who have studied the sex abuse crisis know how intimately intertwined it is with an unhealthy culture of clericalism. Just last week, the bishops of Australia acknowledged the role clerical culture played in both facilitating the crimes and the cover-up of those crimes. Bishop Vincent Long Van Nguyen of Parramatta, Australia, himself a victim of sex abuse, was especially withering in his criticism of clerical culture.

So, it is surprising to read that Francis, who is astute generally, and especially so in diagnosing the ills of clericalism, would be backsliding on the “zero tolerance” policy that is the keystone in the church’s response to the abuse of children. Again, is it so?

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