Pope Francis on Monday used his first meeting with victims of clerical sex abuse to offer his strongest condemnation of a crisis that has shaken the Roman Catholic Church, comparing priests who abuse minors to “a sacrilegious cult,” while begging forgiveness from victims and pledging to crack down on bishops who fail to protect children.
By meeting with six victims from three countries, Francis was trying to show resolve — and personal empathy — to address an issue on which he has faced criticism in what has otherwise been a popular papacy. While some advocates for victims praised the meeting, others dismissed it as little more than a publicity stunt.
The Pope certainly said the right things. But some have heard it all before:
“These meetings are public relations coups for the Vatican and distracting placebos for others,” Mary Caplan, a member of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, an advocacy group, said in a statement. “They provide temporary but false hope.”
Pope John Paul II, in a statement at his April 2002 meeting with American cardinals at the height of the abuse scandal:
Because of the great harm done by some priests and religious, the Church herself is viewed with distrust, and many are offended at the way in which the Church’s leaders are perceived to have acted in this matter. The abuse which has caused this crisis is by every standard wrong and rightly considered a crime by society; it is also an appalling sin in the eyes of God. To the victims and their families, wherever they may be, I express my profound sense of solidarity and concern.
No accountability for the bishops who caused this to happen. In fact, the pope said that ignorance and trusting faulty experts led the bishops into this mess:
It is true that a generalized lack of knowledge of the nature of the problem and also at times the advice of clinical experts led Bishops to make decisions which subsequent events showed to be wrong.
In fact, this was almost complete nonsense. The bishops perfectly well knew what they were dealing with.
Pope Benedict XVI was better. He defrocked 400 abuser priests, and worked harder than John Paul II to clean up the mess. But he never removed a bishop who facilitated abuse in his role as administrator — not even Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City, the first American bishop ever convicted in the scandal (Finn, who in 2010 covered up for and shuffled around a priest who had child porn in his computer, was found guilty of not reporting the child porn to authorities.)
And now Francis. Nice words, but until bishops are held accountable, they will only be words. By now, 12 years after Boston, papal statements absent actual papal governance count for nothing. We’ll know Francis is serious when bishops like Finn start losing their mitres.
UPDATE: Well, here’s progress: the Vatican is investigating the weirdo Fr. Carlos Urritigoity, who ran what many thought was a homoerotic trad cult in the US, until they were thrown out by the local bishop, and he found sanctuary in Paraguay.