#28 – Our Pope: Francis by Jered Klodt, Cavalier AFS, N.D. (Charcoal) – “A portrait of Pope Francis done in charcoal with white chalk highlights on 11″x14″ pastel paper.”

#28 – Our Pope: Francis by Jered Klodt, Cavalier AFS, N.D. (Charcoal) – “A portrait of Pope Francis done in charcoal with white chalk highlights on 11″x14″ pastel paper.” RNS

Rome, we’ve got a problem. 

Pope Francis, politically the surest-footed pontiff in many a long century, stumbled pretty badly last week in discussing the crisis that has engulfed Roman Catholicism these past dozen years.

In a long interview in an Italian newspaper marking the first anniversary of his papacy, he displayed an ill-informed defensiveness about the church’s response to the revelations of sexual abuse. “The Catholic church is maybe the only public institution to have moved with transparency and responsibility,” he said. “No one else has done more. Yet the church is the only one to be attacked.”

Let us note 1) that the Catholic church has had a lot more to do in the sexual abuse department than other institutions; and 2) that other institutions have been a good deal more transparent, and have actually held responsible those guilty of covering up abuse. Moreover, as the folks in State College, Pa. (by way of one example) know only too well, the church has hardly been the only institution to be (and this was hardly le mot juste) “attacked.”

To say that those who have been engaged in the struggle to hold the church accountable were dismayed at Francis’ remarks would be an understatement. (Apologists like Bill Donohue, of course, not so much.)

It is all well and good to acknowledge that Argentina is at the bottom of a continent where the abuse crisis has little registered, and that His Holiness has a lot on his plate. But from a guy who’s been shouting from the rooftops about the evils of clericalism there should be some recognition of its central role in the crisis — the “poor father syndrome” by which the sympathy of a bishop goes out to the accused priest ahead of the child victims.

Pope Benedict showed that he, to some extent, got it. He arranged for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith to take charge of abuse cases, he met with victims of abuse, and he brought the hammer down on arch-abuser Marcial Maciel. All Francis has done is promise a commission to address the situation.

Cue Sean O’Malley — the Capuchin who’s had the job of cleaning up abuse-ridden dioceses all over North America, the cardinal who sits on the pope’s G-8 advisory board. Three years ago he went to Ireland and together with Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin conducted a “Liturgy of Lament and Repentance” for sexual abuse in the church. The two prostrated themselves before a bare altar in St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, then washed the feet of five women and three men who were victimized by priests or church workers as children.

Back in December, O’Malley was the one to announce the formation of the abuse commission. He should get on the horn and tell his Jesuit pal to get it up and running. He should advise him to meet with some abuse victims, the poorest in spirit of all the church’s children. He should help him realize that unless a bishop is removed and disgraced for covering up abuse, the scandal will not go away. And he should make him understand that until it goes away, his dream of a church at the forefront of moral witness in the world will never come to pass.

Categories: Institutions

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Mark Silk

Mark Silk

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life. He is a Contributing Editor of the Religion News Service

14 Comments

  1. carolineredbrook

    Crimes against children are so heinous that accused pedophiles like many priests, Sylvain Kustyan, Jerry Sandusky, etc.and their ENABLERS (including church hierarchy) must be apprehended before they have years to continue to destroy young lives. Sandusky is now safely behind bars. But unfortunately, Kustyan, who has been formally charged with two counts each of 1st Degree Sodomy and Sexual Abuse of a ten-year-old little boy, fled to avoid imminent arrest. Kustyan, formerly of Tuscaloosa, Alabama and Hermin/ Mazingarbe, France, as an English teacher, has led numerous groups of schoolchildren on trips to the US, the UK and Ireland.. Pedophiles condemn their victims to a lifetime of emotional and psychological trauma and often permanent physical ailments as well. Since the average pedophile has 300 different victims in their lifetime and since the recidivism rate among pedophiles is virtually 100% and since there is no effective treatment and no known cure they must be stopped ASAP!

  2. I agree with almost all you say. The pope’s comments were ill-advised, defensive, unhelpful and tone deaf. Bishops who covered up abuse should be removed, clericalism is a major cause of the problem, the pope should take a cue from Cardinal O’Malley, etc. However, your message gets lost and your credibility impaired when you assert factual inaccuracy. The Catholic Church has done more than just about any other institution to combat sexual abuse of minors. Not all bishops comply with measures in the Church (In 2014, that is shocking.). However, if you just look at the facts in the United States, there is no other institution that is doing close to what the Church is. (study of the problem – although sometimes flawed, background checks, safe environment programs, the zero tolerance policy, training, the directive to report to civil authorities, solicitation of victims, etc.) Secular organizations have taken note and praised these efforts. Other denominations have taken note and are modeling many of their efforts after those of the Catholic Church. And, pointing these things out does not make me an apologist for the bishops. As someone who has worked on clergy sexual abuse claims for almost 20 years, I am no apologist for the bishops! I am only interested in discerning truth and facts. Let the chips fall where they may. Condemn the bad and acknowledge the good. Where you especially lose credibility is among Catholic laity. Why? Because the Church’s efforts have made it so difficult for them to serve their Church. They are well aware – in a very personal and experiential way – how stringent the efforts and programs are. To volunteer in a Catholic church now requires significant background checks, fingerprints, safe environment training, cross checks, compliance with strict policies and procedures, and removal for non-compliance. Yet, most Catholics support these programs for the danger they prevent – similar to Americans’ support of inconvenient and often frustrating airport security measures. And the programs have worked in many cases. I have worked on several claims where the perpetrator in a parish, and his abuses, were discovered because people who took safe environment training were able to identify and report the telltale behaviors of a predator in their midst. Other institutions, in fact, have not been as transparent. Bill Donahue is a buffoon. However, he is right about one thing (I say that holding my nose, but even a broken clock tells the right time twice a day.): The sexual abuse problem in public schools dwarfs that in the Catholic Church and any other institution. I have no interest in defending the Church, but the facts are what the facts are. The Orthodox Jewish faith tradition has no transparency and those in leadership positions stridently threaten members who would act to bring about transparency. The Missouri Synod of the Lutheran Church, the Southern Baptist Convention, all branches of the U.S. military, other denominations’ overseas missionaries, United Nations’ and other NGOs’ representatives in foreign countries, local police departments throughout the world, SNAP itself, and many other institutions, have done virtually nothing, have virtually no transparency, and have undertaken few if any programs or efforts to prevent and weed out sexual abuse of minors. Believe me, there is still much criticism to be heaped upon the Church, but don’t cave to the “conventional wisdom” criticisms. If your audience has personal knowledge of the factual inaccuracies in your blog, they will tune out your otherwise important message. Where the pope is going to have to act to have any credibility on this issue is in holding bishops accountable and eradicating clericalism in the Church.

    • Mark Silk

      Point taken, Michael. It’s certainly true that impressive screening procedures for those working with minors have been put in place in Catholic parishes in the United States (less elsewhere). But the degree of transparency when it comes to handling accusations of abuse varies from diocese to diocese, and in some places it’s clear that bad acting has continued (K.C., Minneapolis, Newark). As for the public schools, this needs to be seen in proportional terms — both with respect to the percentage of abusers and the number of victims, given the relative size of the institutions.

      • I agree that transparency and compliance with laws, policies and procedures varies from diocese to diocese and that bad misconduct continues in some places. I blame clericalism, ignorance, and the tendency for institutions to act in self preservation mode rather than for justice. However, given that your commentary referred to the Catholic Church as an institution, I cannot agree with the broad sentiment that the Church is so much worse than other institutions and is not doing anything or even very much about it. The facts don’t bear that out. You are judging an entire institution by the exceptions and by some bishops’ violations of policies and good practices, and by past failures. What is sorely lacking in the Church is holding bishops accountable and efforts to minimize non-compliance due to clericalism. I suspect that profoundly psychosexually immature clerics also contribute to the problem, but celibacy does not turn people into pedophiles or ephebophiles. A celibate and clerical culture may attract sexually deviant men, especially when they see it as a refuge. However, at this point, the infrastructure in the Church is designed to foster transparency and proper handling…now if we can just get universal compliance. And, it is more than screening. The Vatican has even come out and directed bishops throughout the world to comply with local laws and cooperate with civil authorities. In this respect, I believe the Boy Scouts deserve similar credit. They went from an institution that did a terrible job to an institution that is working hard to be transparent and to now do it right. They can’t guarantee that there will be universal compliance, but they have put an infrastructure in place. As for the issue of proportionality in public schools, some researchers have said that the problem dwarfs the Catholic Church problem, irrespective of proportions. And, your commentary was about transparency. Regardless of the proportionality, the questions are about transparency and proper handling. We have all heard of the “passing the trash” problem with public school teachers, and the research on cover ups and non-compliance with reporting laws is frightening. I think it is important to not use the fact of a priest’s abuse as a gauge of whether the Church is making a sincere effort. No matter how effective the policies, some bad guys will find a way to get through. We need to ensure that the bishops are reporting those guys when found out, getting them out of ministry, trying to locate and minister to victims, getting the offending priests’ names out in the public. Most bishops are doing that now, so much so that priests complain that they are being thrown under the bus by their bishops. Another untold story is how much sexual abuse of minors is going on in non-heirarchical churches and congregationalist churches. There are few if any documents or records or mechanisms of accountability. Ironically, as toxic as a heirarchical church can be, at least priests are answerable to a superior. In non-heirarchical and congregationalist churches, there is no system of accountability, no systematized method to keep track of and punish abusers. At the end of the day, I do not want to defend bishops. Many do not deserve it, and I think that the long term viability of what they are doing will not be known for several years. On the other hand, I reject much of what the “experts” are saying, because – due to my work – I have personal knowledge that they are wrong, and many of them know it. Let’s not advocate for anybody one way or another from the outset. Let’s advocate for the truth, and let the chips fall where they may. And, let’s have compassionate and pastoral measures in place to reach out to and minister to victims.

  3. The bishops place the institution above the well being of any person, and so does the Bishop of Rome (the pope). This has been going on for centuries, if we could only get into the secret archives. We need a Catholic “Snowden” to appear; we need a miracle.

  4. Now we know where Pope Francis stands on the issue of the sex abuse of children within the Catholic institution, and it hurts.

    He states: “The Catholic Church is perhaps the only public institution to have acted with transparency and responsibility. No other has done more. And, the Church is the only one to be attacked”——-

    His defensive words are very hurtful to so many thousands of victims who were hoping that, just maybe, Pope Francis might be different. That maybe he really does care about protecting innocent children.
    Sadly the pope is badly misinformed about the church officials being responsible and transparent. Or he is just following the same old archaic rhetoric that the previous popes have done. Child sex abuse and cover up by the clergy under his power does not seem to be a big deal to him. Francis words could make a person cry, if we had any hope at all that he might take some decisive actions to get this horrific abuse and cover up stopped.

    Tragically the sex abuse and cover up within the church hierarchy throughout the world is still going on to this day. Cardinals and bishops are still not removing accused predator clergy, and they are still not reporting to law enforcement. Their so called “zero tolerance” policy is not being followed by the bishops who created it. They don’t have to, because there is no punishment to force the bishops to change their ways of protecting their image and the institution rather than protecting children.

    Child predators need to be kept far away from kids forever. So silence is not an option anymore, it only hurts and by speaking up there is a chance for healing, exposing the truth, and therefore protecting others.

    Judy Jones, “SNAP” the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests,

  5. samuel Johnston

    Now that we know he cannot walk on water, perhaps we can all be more rational and less charmed. Lowered expectations may have a salutary effect both inside the institution, and in the press.

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