July 26, 2018
By Catherine Pepinster
The pontiff’s efforts to deal with the crisis have stalled. He must act decisively or many more Catholics will lose their faith
There is a recent photo of Pope Francis doing the rounds on social media that shows him walking alone, without security people or a private secretary, across a Vatican courtyard. In the early days of his pontificate, it would have been seen as Francis breaking through the stuffy conventions of the Vatican: being his own man. Five years on, it is instead viewed as symbolic of Francis’s loneliness. Here is a man struggling to find allies or support from the Catholic faithful in his stalled efforts to reform the church and failing attempts to tackle the abuse crisis.
That crisis now threatens to engulf his papacy and do lasting damage to Francis’s own reputation. The scandal has grown from being, as the church once claimed, about a few bad apples, to a global disaster, revealing not only cover-ups by bishops of priests’ behaviour but accusations against archbishops and cardinals, the princes of the church. So bad is the situation that it has edged ever closer to the pope himself, with two of the members of his C9 group of cardinal advisers now tainted by abuse scandals. (It should be noted that the C9 members involved dispute the claims.)
In recent days the Catholic church has also been rocked by accusations against one of the most respected cardinals of recent times, the retired archbishop of Washington DC, Theodore McCarrick. The Vatican has ordered him to cease public ministry. McCarrick, 88, was a confidant of presidents and popes, including Francis.
The scandals now lead to routine expressions of sorrow from the Vatican and other Catholic outposts. But this is not enough. Victims, Catholic laity, and indeed innocent clerics viewed as possible miscreants by a cynical public need action to be taken to at last root out the abusers, work out the causes and enact reforms.
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