Abuse victims angry over Pope’s words
Pope Francis has been accused of grossly misrepresenting the Catholic Church’s reaction to clerical abuse in the US when he addressed hundreds of bishops at the Cathedral of St Matthew the Apostle in downtown Washington on Wednesday.
According to this report, he told the bishops that he was:
Conscious of the courage with which you have faced difficult moments in the recent history of the church in this country without fear of self-criticism and at the cost of mortification and great sacrifice.
I realize how much the pain of recent years has weighed upon you, and I have supported your generous commitment to bring healing to victims – in the knowledge that in healing we too are healed – and to work to ensure that such crimes will never be repeated.
John Salveson, a 59-year-old Philadelphia businessman who was abused as a child by a priest, said:
The people he was talking to are the people who moved the pedophiles around to prey on kids. If you gave me 100 years to pick a word to describe the US bishops’ reaction to this crisis, ‘generous’ would never make the list.
Terry McKiernan, who runs BishopAccountability.org, a non-profit group that tracks the abuse scandal, said Francis failed to acknowledge that most dioceses across the country have not disclosed the names of abusers and continue to lobby against reforming statute of limitations laws that shield priests from prosecution for crimes committed many years ago.
It would be a shame if the Pope’s words were taken as encouragement by the bishops to continue that behavior.
The National Catholic Reporter, which has been a strong supporter of the Pope on many issues, has consistently challenged him to do more in punishing and preventing sexual abuse. Its editor, Dennis Coday, wrote in an editorial on Wednesday:
I have to wonder where is the forthrightness we have come to expect of Pope Francis. At the very least he could have used the words ‘clergy sexual abuse of minors’.
This oblique reference will do nothing to assuage the fears of victims’ advocates who believe Francis is more public relations manager than crisis manager when it comes to sexual abuse.
Praising the bishops for the courage they have shown before acknowledging the pain of the victims, will undoubtedly raise the charges of ‘he just doesn’t get it’.
According to BishopAccountability.org, at least 6,400 US priests have been accused of abuse, but only about 4,000 of those have been named. Dioceses across the US have paid out more than $3 billion in settlements.
The Los Angeles Archdiocese agreed in 2007 to pay more than 500 abuse victims $660 million. Later settlements pushed the archdiocese’s tab to more than $740 million.
While California and some other states have made it easier to file criminal and civil lawsuits against clergy members, others, such as Pennsylvania, have rejected such proposals under heavy pressure from the church.
David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said that he had been hopeful that Francis’ leadership would signal a change in how the church handled the scandal. But a year into the papacy, Clohessy gave up on that hope.
There’s nothing he could say that would be helpful, because Catholic bishops have said it all before – ‘I’m sorry, we didn’t know, we’ll do better’. We’ve heard that for decades.
This is a Pope who has refused to take steps to expose one predator or punish one enabler. He could simply defrock, demote, discipline, or even clearly denounce just one complicit bishop. He refuses, not one.