On Heaven and Earth

"In my diocese it never happened to me ..."
Excerpt from On Heaven and Earth (Sobre el cielo y la tierra)

By Jorge Mario Bergoglio and Abraham Skorka
April 2013

In the exchange reproduced below from On Heaven and Earth, by Jorge Mario Bergoglio and Abraham Skorka (pp. 50–51 of the English edition, p. 58 of the Spanish edition), then-Cardinal Bergoglio explains his views on child sexual abuse by priests, a circumstance he describes as very rare in his experience: "In my diocese it never happened to me, but a bishop called me once by phone to ask me what to do in a situation like this."

The impression that Cardinal Bergoglio encountered only one case of sexual abuse by a priest, and that the case was a second-hand one, is difficult to reconcile with the many known cases of child sexual abuse by priests in Argentina during the time that Bergoglio was Auxiliary Bishop of Buenos Aires (1992–1997), Archbishop of Buenos Aires (1998–2013), and President of the Argentine Episcopal Conference (2005–2011).

Dozens of priests were publicly accused of molesting children in Argentina in those years, and the cases have been well-covered in the media. Courageous survivors have come forward, and even asked to meet with Bergoglio, but were refused. Under Bergoglio's leadership, the Episcopal Conference secretly commissioned a report on the case of Fr. Julio Grassi and distributed the report to the jurists considering his case. In those years, the sexual abuse of children by priests was world news because of government and church inquiries in the U.S., Canada, Ireland, Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, and elsewhere. In 2001, Pope John Paul II ordered his bishops, including Cardinal Bergoglio, to send all cases to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome. The many Argentine cases that are known to the public may be reviewed in our Database of Accused Priests and Religious in Argentina, with links to the media coverage in Spanish and English. See also a PDF of the excerpts provided below and a text version.

Bergoglio English 1
Bergoglio English 2

Bergoglio Spanish

English Text:

SKORKA: I would like to make a distinction between a priest who falls in love with a woman and confesses, and pedophilia, which is something completely different. It is a very serious problem that needs to be rooted out completely. It is another story if it is just two adults having an affair or falling in love with each other.

BERGOGLIO: Yes, but they need to correct the situation concerning pedophilia. We can rule out that celibacy carries pedophilia as a consequence. More than 70 percent of the cases of pedophilia occur in the family and in the neighborhood: grandparents, uncles, stepparents, neighbors. The problem is not linked to celibacy. If a priest is a pedophile, he is a pedophile before he is a priest. Now, when this happens, you can never turn a blind eye. You cannot be in a position of power and destroy the life of another person. In my diocese it never happened to me, but a bishop called me once by phone to ask me what to do in a situation like this and I told him to take away the priest's faculties, not to permit him to exercise his priestly ministry again, and to initiate a canonical trial in the tribunal that corresponds to that diocese. For me, that is the attitude to have; I do not believe in the positions that some hold about sustaining a certain corporate spirit so as to avoid damaging the image of the institution. That solution, I believe, was proposed at some point in the United States: to move priests from one parish to another. That is stupid because, in that way, the priest carries his baggage with him. The corporate reaction carries such a consequence, and because of that I do not believe in these ways out. Recently, in Ireland, they uncovered cases that occurred for twenty years, and the current pope clearly said: "Zero tolerance with this crime.” I admire the courage and the straightforwardness of Benedict XVI on this point.
















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