To Pope Francis on the Occasion of the 10th Anniversary of His Pontificate


March 15, 2023


Dear Pope Francis,

Congratulations on the tenth anniversary of your papacy. As longtime researchers of the Catholic sexual abuse crisis, we are writing to ask that you mark this milestone by honoring your repeated pledges of transparency on abuse and answering the faithful’s yearning for accountability in the Church.

You have made powerful and sensitive statements about the catastrophic epidemic of clergy sexual abuse. You have proclaimed “an all-out battle,” and you said that “God weeps” for victims. You were the first pope to say that bishops must be held accountable, and in your letter to the Chilean people, you passionately and unforgettably vowed “’never again’ to the culture of abuse and the system of cover up.”

Indeed, it was in Chile, you said recently, where you experienced a “conversion” to the moral imperative that victims must be listened to and believed.

You have enacted new canon laws aimed at curbing abuse and cover-up, and yet it’s become heartbreakingly evident that your reforms aren’t working. Why is this? In a recent interview, you cited institutional resistance and intransigence. Respectfully, we must say that the problem also lies with the secrecy and insularity of the new laws you’ve put in place. 

Effective anti-corruption measures typically have three characteristics: mandated transparency, independent oversight, and strong, clear sanctions for wrongdoers. Tragically and inexplicably, none of your reforms includes any of these elements. Indeed, your measures keep the basic structure of cover-up intact.

Your key accountability law, Vos estis lux mundi, appears to be making little if any real difference. Your own advisor, Fr. Hans Zollner, recently admitted as much. The Catholic people were promised that Vos estis would be “revolutionary,” a watershed event for holding bishops accountable. But we’ve seen no significant house-cleaning, no dramatic change. At BishopAccountability, we count at most 40 bishops worldwide who have been investigated under Vos estis, and fewer than half of those have been sanctioned in any way, often with leniency.

Earlier this month, you declared that victims need and deserve “concrete actions to repair the horrors they have suffered and to prevent them from happening again.” In that spirit, we urge you to take such a powerful action yourself: release a complete and detailed list of all the church officials who have been investigated under Vos estis lux mundi. Your account should include the nature of the allegations and the status of their cases.

There is ample precedent for such disclosure about abuse, and its benefits are powerful. Information is crucial to deter crimes and cover-ups. To quote your advisor Archbishop Charles Scicluna, “Information is of the essence if we really want to work for justice.”

In the United States, more than 190 bishops and religious superiors have published lists of credibly accused clergy. While the lists are incomplete and often inadequate, they are a step in the right direction.

Some diocesan lists even name the occasional accused bishop. We encourage all of the U.S. ordinaries to add to their lists any bishops deemed in the Vos estis process to be credibly accused, in the hope that you might derive inspiration from their good example.

Finally, Pope Francis, we note with great concern the mild sanctions you’ve given to the handful of bishops you’ve found guilty. In the past four years, you have not deprived one complicit or abusive church leader of his title, let alone his priesthood.

Several years ago, you led despairing victims and Catholics to believe that your robust response to the crimes of former cardinal Theodore McCarrick would be a precedent for a new era of accountability and openness.

But the McCarrick case has proved to be an aberration, a “one and done.” While a handful of the world’s roughly 5,600 bishops have been penalized since McCarrick, far more must happen if children are to be safer inside the Church.

As you begin the second decade of your pontificate, we urge you to also commit to breaking the Vatican’s logjam of abuse cases. Most importantly, to fulfill your vows of “zero tolerance,” we hope you will remove guilty clergy and bishops permanently from ministry, and that details of all cases will be made public.  Such “concrete actions” will help “repair the horrors” that survivors have suffered, and will ultimately “prevent them from happening again.”


Anne Barrett Doyle, Co-Director,

Terence McKiernan, Founder and Co-Director,

cc: Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley, OFM, Cap.
Cardinal Archbishop of Boston

Archbishop Christophe Pierre
Apostolic Nuncio of the United States