Pope to Meet with Victims

Statement by Anne Barrett Doyle

May 27, 2014

Pope Francis’s announcement that he soon will meet with victims of clergy sexual abuse is a welcome and overdue change. As Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires, the Pope refused to meet with victims of clergy abuse, and Benedict XVI’s brief and scripted meetings with victims were theatrical. Will Francis's meeting with survivors be different? Will he open himself to be changed deeply by them, or will he use the encounter to promote the Church’s current message, i.e., that no institution has done more good than the Church in this area?

We’ll know which it will be by three signs.  We’ll have some reason for hope if: 1) Activists and strong public critics are included in the guest list, 2) Before the meeting, action is taken to remove complicit bishops, to declare reporting to civil authorities a blanket church requirement, and to respond honestly to the UN calls for transparency and responsibility, and 3) the format for the meeting includes a frank and open press conference afterward, where differences can be publicly aired.

But Francis's record in Argentina is not encouraging.  Before he was pope, he "had declined to meet with victims of sexual abuse, according to the victims and a spokesman for the Buenos Aires archdiocese," reported the Wall Street Journal last year.

More troubling, as cardinal, Francis showed a convicted priest exactly the kind of preferential treatment that he decried in his Monday interview.  In 2010, he mounted a behind-the-scenes campaign to discredit the young victims of a famous priest recently sentenced to 15 years in prison for child molestation. Then-cardinal Bergoglio's role in the case of Father Julio César Grassi was first revealed in 2011 in the Argentine news outlets Clarín and Página/12 and was confirmed after he became pope in articles in the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and National Catholic Reporter.

The pope was Argentina’s most powerful Catholic leader from 1998 to 2013, a time when church officials in the US and Europe addressed the epidemic of child sexual abuse by priests, and even Popes John Paul II and Benedict made public statements. Yet the record shows that Bergoglio stayed silent, releasing no information and rarely mentioning the crisis. He released no abuse documents, no names of accused priests, no tallies of accused priests, no policy for handling abuse, not even an apology to victims. 

In On Heaven and Earth, a book of conversations between the pope and a rabbi that was published in English in 2013, Francis even denied that the problem existed in his archdiocese:  "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 ..."

But the cardinal is now the pope. And while his record discourages optimism, it is conceivable that Pope Francis will allow himself to be radicalized by his meeting with survivors. If Pope Francis invites challenging critics to the meeting and pairs it with substantive remedies -- for example, the release of the names and files of clerics who have been disciplined by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith -- the event will have proved to be a turning point. There will be reason to hope that the pope is beginning to accept both the terrible and ongoing reality of this crisis and his responsibility for solving it.


Founded in 2003 and based near Boston, Massachusetts, USA, is a large online archive of documents, reports, and news articles documenting the global abuse crisis in the Roman Catholic Church. In 2013, its website was visited by 1.3 million unique visitors. An independent non-profit, it is not a victims' advocacy group and is not affiliated with any church, reform, or victims' organization.

Contact for

Anne Barrett Doyle, Co-Director,,, 781-439-5208 cell
Terence McKiernan, President and Co-Director,,, 508-479-9304


See also a comprehensive analysis of the pope's record in Argentina and a detailed summary of his role in the Grassi case.



















Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.