Pope Francis has just announced he will be coming to the U.S. next year for a conference on families. The new Pope is widely popular, but he and the Church must take stronger actions than ones to date on the victims and perpetrators of clerical child abuse. The Bishops’ two-week conference on family issues in the Vatican October 5-19, at which the Pope called for “candor”, discussed gay communion, divorce, and abortion – but not responsibility for priests’ child abuse.
According to a statement by Pope Francis reported by Reuters, “about two percent” of Catholic priests are “pedophiles.” He called the findings “very grave.” Yet they still preach all over the world, and the number could be an undercount.
In Springfield 59 individuals were determined to be abused before 2008, causing the resignation of Bishop Thomas Dupre, leader of the Diocese of Springfield, in 2004 even before the depth of the scandal came out largely by outstanding investigative reporting by The Springfield Republican. Unfortunately, the scandal and coverup continue in the U.S. and world.
Annual surveys commissioned by the United States Conference of Bishops state that between 1950 and 2013, 17,259 children were sexually abused. 6427 priests were accused but only 3,973 names have been made public. These numbers only cover the United States.
In July, the Pope met with abused victims to express “regret and concern” as have Popes Paul and Benedict. He conceded that priests and bishops “violated their priestly vocation” and committed “sins of omission”. The apology still leaves Vatican inaction to punish abusers.
According to his 2013 book, “On Heaven and Earth”, Pope Francis argued as archbishop of Buenos Aires to “take away the priest’s faculties” and “not permit him to exercise his priestly ministry again” when a priest gets convicted.
The church has declared “bankruptcy” in dioceses including San Diego, Wilmington, Milwaukee, and Stockton that were about to be sued. That’s how they decrease, postpone or avoid payments.
Bankrupt? The Catholic Church´s assets are twelve billion dollars. The Pope and the parishes with splendorous cathedrals, churches and grounds are not paupers.
Dioceses hide their inaction despite a few forced payments. In response to reporting of pedophiles, the church often just pays them off. As Archbishop of Milwaukee, Cardinal Timothy Dolan authorized $20,000-payments to “a handful” of accused priests to leave their priesthood. In 2008, Springfield paid $4.5 million to the known 59 victims but believe it or not the Church Diocese is paid back these millions by insurance policies — not quite penance.
Others are kicked upstairs. Boston’s Cardinal Bernard Francis Law, sought by prosecutors to face a grand jury for covering up abuses, was about to be subpoenaed but moved to the Vatican where he got promoted. The law for his alleged pre-2002 coverups was then changed in May, 2002 by the Massachusetts legislature to specifically include mandatory reporting by clergy. Pope Francis called moving guilty clergy “stupid because the priest carries his baggage with him.”
How a priest gets from “I am a servant of God” to “I want to touch altar boys,” or protecting priests who do, is incomprehensible. Mary Alexander, President of The National Crime Victim Bar Association, calls clerical child abuse “a huge violation of trust and innocence. While nothing can ever fully restore this, seeking justice is important to bringing some closure.”
In a January 31, 1997 letter by Pope John Paul II’s diplomat in Ireland, Luciano Storero, the Vatican expressed “reservations of both a moral and a canonical nature” about a mandatory abuser-reporting policy. The cover-it-up letter stated that “I am directed to inform the bishops of the invalidity” of “mandatory reporting” because “the results could be highly embarrassing and detrimental.” The letter marked “Strictly confidential” was disclosed by Irish Radio RTE and AP.
Earlier this year, on January 16, 2014, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, Vatican UN ambassador in Geneva, said that the Vatican is not responsible for a policy on referring cases to authorities: ‘‘Priests fall under the jurisdiction of their own country.”
In December 2013, Pope Francis set up a commission, headed by Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, which O’Malley said would “advise the Holy Father about the protection of children and pastoral care of victims of abuse.” He said it would review the Church’s “cooperation with the civil authorities”, screening of candidates for the priesthood, and supervision of abusive priests. O’Malley said he was “not sure” if his commission or the Vatican would take on bishop accountability. Terrence McKiernan, president of the watchdog Bishop Accountability, said no one can be sure because the pope is “absolutely allergic to this topic.”
The Vatican can prove the naysayers wrong. The church needs to act and proceed “with zero tolerance” as the Pope advocated. The Vatican should defrock priests, or instruct parishes to do so, at least temporarily during criminal investigations and turn them over when abuse is discovered. It´s time for the new Pope to write a new letter instructing referral of all charges worldwide to law enforcement. The Church must stop kicking abusing clerics “upstairs”, even to the Vatican itself. It should pay every documented abused victim. If the Church honestly believes it is a “shelter for its believers” and not a hell for its abused, it must recognize that actions speak louder than words. With the new Pope´s wide acclaim, he, Cardinal O’Malley, and new Springfield Bishop Mitchell Rozanski have an opportunity for meaningful action.