In a speech made this morning to Vatican administrators, Pope Francis urged priests to do what the Catholic Church has proved incompetent at doing: Weed out the abusers in their midst. He told predatory priests to “convert and hand yourself over to human justice, and prepare for divine justice.”
That might be great advice if anyone actually took the threat seriously. But if the priests didn’t follow the “Don’t rape kids” rule, it’s hard to imagine they’re going to fall in line with the whole “Turn yourselves in” approach.
It didn’t help that the pope also used his speech to go after critics of the Church who called out the abuse beyond merely reporting on it.
The pontiff also suggested that some critics of the Church are taking advantage of the scandals to inflict additional damage on it.
“Others, out of fear, personal interest or other aims, have sought to attack [the Church] and aggravate her wounds,” he said. “Others do not conceal their glee at seeing her hard hit.”
Dude. The critics (hello) who condemn the Church’s inaction aren’t throwing victory parties. We’re angry and appalled and infuriated that a giant crime ring has been able to continue functioning all because it’s dressed up in religion. If we weren’t talking about the Catholic Church, an organization with this many credible allegations of abuse and people at high levels covering it all up would’ve been shut down decades ago.
At no point did the pope go into detail about how individual churches would be punished for not being fully transparent with government officials investigating them. He didn’t say the Church was changing the intractable doctrine that leads priests to groom children instead of finding partners their own age. He didn’t call for a change in Vatican guidelines that call for bishops to turn abusers in to civil authorities only if the local law requires it.
Instead, he just claimed the Church would “never again” cover up sex abuse by religious leaders… which implies that, yes, they covered up sex abuse by religious leaders up until this very moment.
Keep in mind this comes the same week we learned that the discrepancy between abusers reported by the Church and abusers being investigated by law enforcement in Illinois was more than 500. While not all 500 will turn out to be credible allegations, it’s hard to imagine all of them will turn up nothing. Which means the cover up is still going on.
The speech might have been useful a few decades ago. Right now, it’s quite literally the least he could do. It was the equivalent of Republican Sen. Jeff Flake admonishing Donald Trump. We hear the words, but we see no meaningful action to back it up. At some point, the rhetoric itself just becomes a running gag.