We are deeply disappointed in Pope Francis’ comments on clergy sexual abuse as reported recently in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.
Pope Francis said: “The Church has done so much on this road, perhaps most of all. The statistics on the phenomenon of violence against children are impressive, but they also show clearly that the vast majority of abuse occurs in the home environment and the neighborhood. The Catholic Church is perhaps the only public institution to have moved with transparency and accountability. No one else has done more. Yet the Church is the only one to be attacked.”
Hearing the Pope use the abuse-occurs-elsewhere excuse is truly disheartening. We hope he was referring only to the recent U.N. criticism when he made these comments because much work remains to be done. We hope that the work of his commission on clergy sexual abuse will produce true steps toward healing and reform and the fulfillment of Francis’ obvious commitment to mercy and compassion towards all the suffering in the world.
When considering clergy sexual abuse of minors within the Catholic Church, the Church surely cannot expect the claim that abuse occurs elsewhere to be taken seriously. Of course, child sexual abuse occurs in the home, in families, in the neighborhood and in other institutions. Does that excuse the Church’s failure to report such crimes and its decisions to shield the abusers, as it has done for many decades?
That the Church may have been the only institution attacked, as in the recent U.N. report, does not matter. What matters is that child sexual abuse occurs in the Catholic Church. The evidence from multiple sources over many years and from around the world is that the Catholic Church has a huge problem with clergy sexual abuse. Tens of thousands of children have been abused by thousands of clergy. Instead of being transparent about these crimes, the bishops kept the abuse secret and reported the crimes within the Church instead of to civil authorities.
Worse, the fact remains that the Vatican has never removed or censured in any way any member of the hierarchy involved in the scandal. Those who covered up crimes of clergy sex abuse remain in their positions or were allowed to retire with a dignity that was never accorded to victims. Pope Francis’ comments, made during an interview covering several subjects, seem to continue to defend the institutional Church and the hierarchy rather than to express any concern for the victims of abuse within the Church or to focus on the need for concrete steps to foster the healing of these thousands of victims.
The Vatican claims that the Catholic Church has done more than any other institution in the world with regard to child protection. Yes, the Church has put many policies and programs into place and trained tens of thousands of adults and children to recognize and act upon clergy sexual abuse. But where is the will to see these procedures through to their end? The National Review Board, established by the U.S. bishops to monitor the execution of these programs, for example, remains hampered by the way parishes and dioceses have administered the procedures and by the Church hierarchy. The board’s top administrators have borne witness to this.
In addition, the Church hierarchy, again testified by many around the world, has victimized the abused by accusing them of lying, of somehow causing their own abuse, of “tarnishing” the Church. Victims also were forced time and again to sign confidentiality statements to protect the Church. As adults, these survivors may receive apologies from the Church, but they see no attempt to discipline the bishops who cared more about the abusers than the abused and who chose to hide assets rather than help the victimized.
We are disappointed that Pope Francis, with his care for the marginalized, desire for social justice and focus on clericalism and reform of the Curia, does not see that holding bishops accountable for coverups and a full release of all secret files are essential for true reform and healing.
Voice of the Faithful®: Voice of the Faithful® is a worldwide movement of faithful Roman Catholics working to support survivors of clergy sexual abuse, support priests of integrity and increase the laity’s role in governance and guidance of the Church. More information is at www.votf.org.
Contact: Nick Ingala, 781-559-3360, firstname.lastname@example.org