Statements and Press Releases
March 5, 2014
Statement on the Corriere della Sera Interview
First Anniversary of the Election of Pope Francis
By Terence McKiernan
As the first anniversary of his election approaches, the interview of Pope Francis in Corriere della Sera and La Nacion helps us understand the Pope’s long silence and inaction regarding the sexual abuse of children in the Catholic church. It is not that he has been slowly preparing a major initiative; it is that he doesn’t get it. In the interview, Francis does not offer an apology to the hundreds of thousands of children abused by priests and religious – he doesn’t even express sorrow. Instead, he is triumphalist about clergy abuse of children and silent about the complicity of bishops and major superiors: “The Catholic Church is perhaps the only public institution to have moved with transparency and accountability.” The chutzpah of this self-assessment is breathtaking, coming as it does immediately after Francis refused to provide data to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and refused to extradite Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski.
By the end of the Pope’s remarks, the Church itself has become the victim: “No one else has done more. Yet the Church is the only one to be attacked.” It is astonishing, at this late date, that Pope Francis would recycle such tired and defensive rhetoric, apparently blaming the survivors and the journalists who have informed us about these crimes. What little transparency and accountability the Church has shown, has been compelled by survivors, journalists, advocates, and activists. Pope Francis, who is famous for his humility, should have acknowledged this crucial contribution.
This interview is not a good sign. One year into his photogenic papacy, we are still waiting for Pope Francis to take action regarding the sexual abuse of children by priests and members of religious orders. Sexual abuse is acknowledged to be the gravest crisis the Catholic church has faced since the Reformation, but it is not even mentioned by Francis in his lengthy Evangelii Gaudium. Yet the sexual abuse of children by clergy is a serious impediment to the evangelization that Francis seeks.
Pope Francis has met with drug addicts, immigrants, prisoners, and the physically disadvantaged. But he has not met with clergy sexual abuse survivors, who have been directly harmed by the Pope’s brother priests and by his brother bishops. The victims of sexual abuse should be the Pope’s first priority, because the Church’s responsibility to them is immediate and her ability to remedy the harm is greatest. "The thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds," Pope Francis said in his interview with Antonio Spadaro, S.J., editor-in-chief of La Civiltà Cattolica. Pope Francis has this ability already but he has yet to extend it to the church's own wounded.
Pope Francis is a master of the humble expression, and in those terms, it is time for him to “fish or cut bait.” We urge him to take the following steps, using the energy of his first anniversary to correct his feckless response to abuse in the past year. Children worldwide, both Catholic and non-Catholic, have been put at risk by his inaction.
Shake Up the Vatican Abuse Bureaucracy – Abuse is even more important than the Vatican’s financial problems and should have a czar in Rome like Cardinal George Pell. We urge Pope Francis to summon Archbishop Diarmuid Martin from Dublin, replacing Cardinal Gerhard Müller at CDF or issuing a motu proprio to put Martin in charge of the process. The abuse commission announced in December should be scrapped; its mission, to identify best practices, has already been achieved by multiple bishops' conferences, government commissions, prosecutor reports, and the Vatican's own 2012 conference on sex abuse. What the Vatican needs now is a tough enforcer, not another study group.
Remove Bishops Who Have Enabled Abuse – We urge Pope Francis to remove Bishop Robert W. Finn of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, who was convicted on September 6, 2012 of failing to report suspected child abuse. It is a disgrace that Bishop Finn remains in office, when Pope Francis has removed and other bishops for financial malfeasance. In removing Bishop Finn, the Holy Father must state that there will be “zero tolerance” for bishops who enable abuse. Bishops and major superiors must make the welfare of children their first priority, and the Pope must proceed to remove the men who have failed in that sacred trust.
Meet with Victims at Length – We urge Pope Francis to transform the scripted, wooden, brief encounters that Benedict pioneered. Such meetings should not be a ritual enactment of contrition, but an opportunity to learn, and a chance for the pope to be genuinely changed by his encounter with survivors. These encounters must not be the photo-ops for which Pope Francis is already justly famous, but real dialogues with abuse survivors, including survivors who have organized to press their cause. The survivors’ cause should be the Pope’s cause as well.
Radicalize and Globalize Church Abuse Policies – The Vatican is collating policies developed by the U.S. bishops’ conference and others to develop a global approach. To be real, this process must include survivors and experts who have been excluded from the Vatican’s tentative scholarly efforts on the crisis so far. The faux zero tolerance of the U.S./Vatican Norms must be replaced with real zero tolerance; the weak reporting requirement must be made absolute, so that the church is no longer hiding behind, and actually supporting, poor reporting law; the policy must require transparent publication of documents and lists of credibly accused. These changes must be applied evenly across every diocese and religious order province, and violations must be punished, not ignored or even encouraged.
Transform the CDF – We urge Pope Francis to transform the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith from a black box into a force for justice and transparency. The CDF is the largest and most important repository of sexual abuse files in the world, and its archive is unique and especially important because the Vatican paper trail, which is only partially recoverable from diocesan or religious order files, is intact in the Vatican archive. Pope Francis must order the CDF to begin maintaining a public docket of abuse cases. The CDF must issue a full report of prior laicizations and orders to live a life of prayer and penance, including names and documents, and going forward, the CDF must report the disposition of each case, again naming names and providing documents.
Honor the Holy See’s UN Commitment – As a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Holy See must change its unresponsive ways. We urge Pope Francis to honor the request for data issued by the Committee on the Rights of the Child, and to commission the full report that the CRC has urged. The Vatican must make child protection its true priority and not a theater of false promises.
Terence McKiernan, President and Co-Director, BishopAccountability.org, 508-479-9304
Anne Barrett Doyle, Co-Director, BishopAccountability.org, 781-439-5208 cell
Founded in 2003, BishopAccountability.org is the world's largest public library of documents related to the abuse crisis in the Roman Catholic Church. An independent non-profit, it is not a victims' advocacy group and is not affiliated with any church, reform, or victims' organization.
September 29, 2013
Four Actions Must Be Taken by Pope Francis and the G-8, Watchdog Archival Group Says
Church's Issues of Sexual Misconduct, Financial Malfeasance, and Transparency
Are Global, Not Merely Curial
The meetings of the so-called G-8 with Pope Francis in Rome and Assisi this coming week are billed as an effort to reform the Curia. The lavish dysfunction of the Curia is well known, and the mess appears to have been an important factor in Pope Benedict’s abdication and Pope Francis’s election. A red dossier, commissioned by Benedict and reported in La Repubblica, supposedly detailed the sexual and financial problems of the Vatican dicasteries. But these themes – sex, power, and information in the world’s oldest and largest institution – transcend Vatican politics. They are the fundamental issues that are embodied in the church’s global sexual abuse crisis, and that have been revealed as the crisis has unfolded.
Pope Francis and the G-8 will fail if they see their task as making the Curia more presentable and efficient. They might succeed if they see the Curia’s failure as signifying a vast crisis in the institution, a crisis that is best understood and remedied by focusing on the sexual abuse of children in the Catholic church and the enabling of that abuse by the bishops and the Vatican. Some reports indicate that the “Super 8” see their purview as broader than Curial reform – perhaps it will include the “new evangelization” or ecumenism. They will be guided by Francis’ “indications.” But Pope Francis has entirely avoided mentioning the sexual abuse of children by clerics – in his Jesuit interview, at least in its published form, and in his other gestures and pronouncements.
The members of the Super 8 who are most attuned to the abuse of children in the universal church must radically alter this emphasis. Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston understands the disaster of sexual abuse in the church and has even endorsed the idea that bishops must be held responsible for their failings in the crisis.
Cardinal Óscar Rodríguez Maradiaga is up-to-date on the sexual abuse crisis, since his protégé, Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda, has just been selected as co-adjutor bishop to clean up the mess created by Archbishop John J. Myers in the Archdiocese of Newark, the ninth-largest U.S. diocese. O’Malley, Rodríguez Maradiaga, and their colleagues must not try to change the subject, as if the abuse crisis were “history.” New evangelization in Europe and successful competition with Protestantism in the developing world are not possible until the church remedies the problems that the sexual abuse crisis continues to reveal in Scotland, Australia, Argentina, and elsewhere.
The G-8 meeting must show that the Vatican’s approach to the abuse crisis is changing dramatically:
1) Bishop Robert W. Finn of the Diocese of Kansas City St. Joseph in Missouri, who has been criminally convicted of child endangerment, must be removed.
2) Pope Francis must break his silence and outline a plan for radical and ongoing change in the area of clergy sex abuse.
3) The changes should immediately include a total house-cleaning at the CDF, where the cases, files, and decisions must be made public in real time, by a leadership and staff truly committed to children, rather than the status quo. The CDF can no longer be a black box and a black hole.
4) Papal meetings with victims of clergy abuse, which Cardinal O’Malley will urge, are essential. Pope Francis must begin by having substantive meetings and discussions with the victims of Fr. Julio César Grassi, who is now serving a prison term. See our newsletter on the Grassi case. As Cardinal Bergoglio, the Pope failed to meet with the Grassi victims, and while Bergoglio was president of the Argentine bishops’ conference, the conference commissioned a report to discredit the victims. The Pope must make amends and set a new course.
Terence McKiernan, President, BishopAccountability.org
508-479-9304 US cell
Anne Barrett Doyle, Co-Director, BishopAccountability.org
781-439-5208 US cell
Founded in 2003, BishopAccountability.org is based in Waltham, Massachusetts, USA, and documents the crisis of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. It offers an online collection of more than 100,000 pages of church records, legal documents, and media reports. Its hardcopy archive is approaching one million pages. The mission of the organization is to give the public convenient access to information pertaining to the abuse crisis in the U.S. and worldwide. An independent non-profit corporation, BishopAccountability.org is an archive and a data center. It is not a victims' advocacy group or a reform group.
March 7, 2013
Blunt remarks by cardinal win rare praise from watchdog group
Correct three flaws in much-touted US system, they say
Blunt remarks by cardinal win rare praise from watchdog group
No other US cardinal has pushed for disciplining of bishops who cover up
O'Malley's frankness in Rome 'breaks new ground,' group says
In letter to cardinal, they urge him to lead church toward new tough sex abuse policy
Correct three flaws in much-touted US system, they say
O'Malley must address his failings in Boston
Other American cardinals should follow O'Malley's lead
An American cardinal's unusual outspokenness in Rome about culpable bishops has garnered rare praise from a Boston-based watchdog group that documents the crisis worldwide. In a letter, the group is urging the prelate to keep up the tough talk in conclave – and to set the record straight about his own oft-praised performance and the hidden laxness of the US bishops' zero tolerance rule.
Speaking to The Boston Globe on Tuesday, Cardinal Sean O'Malley, archbishop of Boston, pointed to the disciplining of errant bishops as a crucial priority of the next pope. "There needs to be a path" for penalizing bishops who enable child sexual abuse, the prelate said. "Right now, it's not terribly clear, but it's something the next pope will have to deal with."
In response, a group of researchers that has tracked the cardinal closely since 2003 and often criticized him for a lack of transparency thanked him today for his courageous words. "No other US cardinal has been blunt publicly about the need to hold complicit bishops accountable," wrote the co-directors of BishopAccountability.org, the Boston-based research group that documents the crisis worldwide.
"You surely have caused consternation among some of your fellow cardinals – and risked taking yourself out of the running to be Pope – but your brave statement will reverberate throughout the conclave and hearten Catholics around the world," they said. [See the letter.]
The public stance O'Malley took this week is rare in the Catholic hierarchy. In Europe, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin and Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna have pushed for the resignation of culpable bishops in their countries, and Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles recently censured Cardinal Roger Mahony. But the vast majority of bishops who transferred accused priests, hid allegations from police, and endangered children have suffered no public rebukes from their peers, much less disciplinary action by the Vatican. In the US, for instance, no bishop has called for punitive measures against Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City, Missouri, who was found guilty in October 2012 of failing to report child sexual abuse.
With his taboo-breaking remarks this week, and his reputation worldwide as the church leader who has dealt with the crisis most effectively, Sean O'Malley is uniquely positioned to lead the fight in conclave for a pope who will mandate strict sex abuse policies and restore the credibility of the Catholic Church, said Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of BishopAccountability.org.
"O'Malley has credibility in Rome, and he's shown a willingness this week to point out the elephant in the room. We’re urging him to keep bringing up subjects other cardinals might want to avoid," Doyle said.
Specifically, BishopAccountability.org is calling on the cardinal while in Rome to correct mis-perceptions of his own record in Boston, as a way to start fixing hidden weaknesses in current US church policy.
"The cardinals inevitably will discuss how the next pope should handle the abuse crisis, and some will point to the US bishops' policy as a model. It's important that the US system not be touted unless its major flaws are also discussed," said Terence McKiernan, the group's founder and president.
In leading the charge for a strong global policy, the group said, Cardinal O’Malley must highlight three critical flaws in the current US policy: 1) the loophole in its so-called zero tolerance provision [Norm 8 of the Essential Norms] that is enabling O'Malley and other US bishops to keep in ministry accused priests for months or years after the abuse is reported; 2) the absence of a clear-cut mandatory reporting clause (the rule, Norm 11, stipulates only compliance with civil laws, as does current Vatican policy); and 3) the failure to require every bishop to publish complete lists of credibly accused priests.
O'Malley himself has failed significantly to fulfill his commitment to transparency, the researchers say. He did not release a list of accused priests until August 2011, years after committing to do so, and he admitted that he did not include the names of 91 accused archdiocesan priests – some of whom were credibly accused, O'Malley said (see also our cached copy of O'Malley's letter). And unlike at least 10 of the 24 other US bishops who have released lists, he refused to include religious order clerics. According to a Boston Globe investigation, at least 70 accused order clerics – including some who have gone to prison for child sexual abuse – are missing from the cardinal's list.
The letter emailed to Cardinal O'Malley at 6:30 P.M. ROME TIME TODAY is pasted below.
Anne Barrett Doyle, 781-439-5208, firstname.lastname@example.org
Terence McKiernan, 508-479-9304, email@example.com
Founded in 2003, BishopAccountability.org is based in Waltham MA and documents the crisis of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. It maintains an online library of more than 100,000 pages of church records, legal documents, and media reports. Its mission is to provide one-stop access to information pertaining to the crisis in all U.S. dioceses and throughout the world. An independent non-profit, BishopAccountability.org is an archive and data center. It is not a victims' advocacy group or a church reform group.