As I See It

March 25, 2014

Pope Francis is going backward on sexual abuse of children by priests

“On the church’s central crisis — the cover-up of clergy sex crimes, Pope Francis is moving backward,” write Mike Hunter and David Clohessy, the leaders of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “It stirs great sadness in us to come to this conclusion, but the facts speak for themselves.”

The recent first anniversary of the election of Pope Francis provides an occasion for us to reflect on what he has accomplished in the past year.

Francis has captivated the imagination and inspired the hopes of millions. He has done so by making moves that are more than symbolic — carrying his luggage, washing others’ feet, making “cold calls.” He’s also taken real steps to improve Vatican governance and finances.

And so it’s difficult for us as members of the community of survivors to write: On the church’s central crisis — the cover-up of clergy sex crimes, Pope Francis is moving backward.

It stirs great sadness in us to come to this conclusion, but the facts speak for themselves.

Last August, the pope named a prominent member of the bizarre, scandal-ridden, and cultlike Legion of Christ to the number two position in the Vatican City State.

Pope Francis reappointed Cardinal Gerhard Müller, a known enabler of a convicted pedophile priest, to head the powerful Vatican watchdog office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), which oversees the handling of abuse cases for the entire church.

Instead of pushing the Vatican office to move more quickly and with transparency when it investigates abuse reports, Pope Francis told Müller to “keep doing what you’re doing” about abuse cases.

When a Polish prosecutor requested that Archbishop Josef Wesolowski, the former papal nuncio to the Dominican Republic, be extradited to Poland to face charges of abuse of minors in both the Dominican Republic and Poland, Pope Francis refused to let him be extradited from the Vatican.

Though he quickly suspended a German bishop who spent a fortune on his home, the pope has refused to denounce — much less demote or even discipline — Kansas City Bishop Robert Finn, who was convicted in 2012 of child endangerment for shielding a known pedophile priest.

He rebuffed a United Nations panel’s request for information on clerical sex abuse.

As high-ranking Catholic officials attacked the motives and findings of the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child in its report about the Catholic abuse crisis, Pope Francis remained silent.

He has met with both of the U.S. prelates most discredited for their cover-up of clergy sex crimes.

Within hours of being made pope, Francis met with the disgraced Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, and just weeks ago, the pope chose to meet in Rome with Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony.

These moves signal to other Catholic officials that they’ll always enjoy support at the highest echelons of the church, no matter how egregious their wrongdoing may be.

There have been some bright spots in Pope Francis’s approach to the abuse crisis in the past year. For example, he has openly admitted that the church should pay money in settlements of abuse claims.

And some feel hopeful about the abuse panel he appointed days ago. (He meets soon with President Barack Obama, but we suspect that the two will not discuss the abuse crisis.)

These bright spots, however, do not alter the unhappy conclusion we’re forced to reach: this pope, who brings so much hope to so many, is actually moving the Catholic Church backward in its handling of the abuse crisis.

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