Yesterday, Pope Francis met with six victims of Catholic-priest-initiated sexual abuse and assured them that bishops would be “held accountable” for not doing enough. But unless he starts pushing pedophile priests out of the Church and into the hands of the criminal justice system, those words really mean nothing.
Even CNN didn’t seem to take him seriously, with an initial headline missing a key word. (Accidentally, of course…) Neither did Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP):
“Let’s not mistake this meeting today for real action,” SNAP President Barbara Blaine told CNN. “The meeting today will not make children safer.”
“I think that Pope Francis has yet to take strong action that will protect children and he could do that by firing the bishops who have been complicit and who are transferring predators,” she said.
What the Pope said sounds fine at the outset until you give it a deeper look:
Before God and his people I express my sorrow for the sins and grave crimes of clerical sexual abuse committed against you. And I humbly ask forgiveness.
I beg your forgiveness, too, for the sins of omission on the part of Church leaders who did not respond adequately to reports of abuse made by family members, as well as by abuse victims themselves. This led to even greater suffering on the part of those who were abused and it endangered other minors who were at risk.
On the other hand, the courage that you and others have shown by speaking up, by telling the truth, was a service of love, since for us it shed light on a terrible darkness in the life of the Church. There is no place in the Church’s ministry for those who commit these abuses, and I commit myself not to tolerate harm done to a minor by any individual, whether a cleric or not. All bishops must carry out their pastoral ministry with the utmost care in order to help foster the protection of minors, and they will be held accountable.
I hate that he uses the word “sin” to describe the crimes… and I especially hate that he uses it first, before “grave crimes.” As if sinning is the bigger problem here, that those priests let down God. Asking for forgiveness may be nice PR, but the Pope didn’t abuse anyone, nor was he in charge when these incidents took place. He’s not the person who needs to be forgiven.
But he would be moving in the right direction by removing all priests accused of sexual abuse from their parishes immediately, kicking them out of the Church altogether if they’re found guilty of abuse (or covering it up), and supporting harsh criminal sentences against anyone involved. Let’s see him support criminal charges against bishops who transferred pedophile priests to new locations. Let’s see him open up all the Vatican’s books to secular authorities instead of impeding their investigations by limiting access.
As it stands, Joe Paterno received a harsher penalty than some of these bishops who helped cover up child rape.
The time to ask for forgiveness was decades ago. The victims and their families deserve action, not wordplay. And those actions need to stem from the spiritual leader of the Church.