Pope Francis is currently on a trip to Ireland and told the people there that he was “shamed” by worldwide scandals involving priests who sexually abused young children. Unfortunately, making comments seems to be all he’s doing, and the world is demanding real action.
The pope reportedly spent 90 minutes with numerous survivors of sexual abuse, telling them that the priests’ actions were “filth.” His comments came on the heels of getting called out by Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, who said the abuse resulted in a “bitter and broken heritage for so many, leaving a legacy of pain and suffering.”
“I cannot fail to acknowledge the grave scandal caused in Ireland by the abuse of young people by members of the Church charged with responsibility for their protection and education,” the Pope told political leaders and dignitaries at Dublin Castle.
“The failure of ecclesiastical authorities — bishops, religious superiors, priests and others — adequately to address these repellent crimes has rightly given rise to outrage, and remains a source of pain and shame for the Catholic community,” he said.
“I myself share those sentiments.”
The Pope veered off his script when speaking out about abuse, saying he had set out a “greater commitment to eliminating this scourge in the Church, at any cost“.
That is powerful rhetoric, and it echoes the sentiments of the pope’s comments from a letter earlier in the week, but so far they are still just words. Fixing the problem requires concrete actions.
At least one abuse survivor specifically noted that Pope Francis’ reassuring statements wasn’t enough.
Colm O’Gorman of Amnesty International Ireland, who was abused by a priest for more than two years as a teenager, said the Pope’s comments did not go far enough.
“He could have talked to us all in a way that was blunt, that was clear, that was frank, that was human, that was accessible,” he said.
Of course, at least one priest in attendance hailed the pope’s comments. The priest himself was reportedly abused and was present during the meeting.
Another abuse survivor who was at the meeting, west Belfast priest Fr Patrick McCafferty, said the Pope had promised to “make people resign”.
He said: “I got the strong impression that no-one will be exempt from just penalties who have offended, who have covered up.
“The damage [by] those who have covered up could even be said to be worse than [that of] the offenders.”
Given the statements made by the Vatican’s former ambassador to the U.S. (who admittedly had an axe to grind and whose accusations should be taken with a grain of salt), if the people who covered up the crimes need to resign, the pope may have to step down, too.
I don’t know if the priests who covered for abusers are worse than the abusers themselves, but all of them have contributed to the damage done by the Church. The critics are right to say that words of consolation aren’t enough. Not now. Not anymore. Until concrete reforms are put into action by the Vatican, and until everyone involved in the crimes are no longer associated with the Church, no one should assume things have improved.
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