In his closing speech at the Vatican’s summit on child sex abuse, Pope Francis did what he always does: He said a bunch of things that sounded good — included his desire to wage an “all-out battle” against clerical abuse — without taking any actionable steps to decrease instances of the abuse or punish priests credibly accused of perpetrating the crimes.
Speaking at a gilded and frescoed hall at the Vatican, Francis said abuse should never be “covered up” or tolerated. The pontiff’s words, which included general calls for improved national-level guidelines, underscored the looming challenges for an institution that has long acknowledged the seriousness of clerical abuse but struggled to curtail it.
Francis mentioned unspecified “legislation” that the Catholic Church will draw up, and he said it will “spare no effort to do all that is necessary to bring to justice” anyone who has committed the “crimes” of abuse. He did not mention a zero-tolerance policy — a step that advocates have long called for to codify the idea that clerics found guilty of abuse be removed permanently from the priesthood.
The pope made it clear that change will never occur from the top down. That leaves the responsibility to everyone else — to publicly shame the priests, to tell reporters about what happened since bishops can’t be trusted with the information, and to find their own paths to recovery.
It makes you wonder: What was the point of the summit if not to give the public a clear path forward for how the Church would handle these issues? It’s as if they thought a symbolic meeting would be enough to convince people they were taking care of it, only to go silent when asked for actual policy proposals.
Francis, however, had sought to tamp down expectations about the Vatican meeting, fostered by some of his own bishops, that the conference would deliver concrete remedies to end the scourge. He said the meeting had been intended to educate all the bishops on the gravity of the problem of sexual abuse; many were skeptical about such cases in their home countries.
Some advocates for abuse survivors considered the pope’s remarks a failure.
“Pope Francis’ talk today was a stunning letdown, a catastrophic misreading of the grief and outrage of the faithful,” said Anne Barrett Doyle, a leader of BishopAccountability.org. “As the world’s Catholics cry out for concrete change, the pope instead provides tepid promises, all of which we’ve heard before.”
The world’s Catholics have too much faith in their own Church. At some point, they need to face reality and cut their losses. This problem won’t end until devout believers stop giving the Vatican monsters the benefit of the doubt, stop handing money over to the Church, and stop pretending there’s any value remaining in the “Catholic” brand.
They should be ashamed to be Catholic. And Pope Francis embarrassed them yet again, this time with the whole world watching.
(Screenshot via YouTube)