That’s the news out of Rome after Pope Francis’ meeting with six victims of clergy sexual abuse, and it’s potentially very big news. For the first time, a pontiff has acknowledged that the handling of abuse cases by bishops, and not merely the abuse itself, is a major part of the problem — and promised to sanction those who don’t do it right.

Here are the relevant sentences, from the homily Francis gave at Mass with the victims today in the Casa Santa Marta:

I beg your forgiveness, too, for the sins of omission on the part of Church leaders who did not respond adequately to reports of abuse made by family members, as well as by abuse victims themselves. This led to even greater suffering on the part of those who were abused and it endangered other minors who were at risk…All bishops must carry out their pastoral ministry with the utmost care in order to help foster the protection of minors, and they will be held accountable.

To be sure, “sins of omission” does not adequately describe what the bishops have done. The shifting of abusers from parish to parish, the concealment of evidence from ecclesiastical and civil authorities — these are sins of commission, and, in some cases, crimes.

Though he did not say so explicitly, the pope could well have been asking for personal forgiveness. As has been pointed out, most notably by the researchers at BishopAccountability.org., his own record in addressing clerical sexual abuse when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires left a lot to be desired.

Now he has a chance to make up for past sins, and to lead his church out of the wilderness on this issue. The fundamental question is what he means by holding bishops accountable. If this is merely a warning of consequences for future failures, it will not do the trick. Sitting bishops who have been found to have covered up abuse must be held accountable too, and removed from office.

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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.

17 Comments

  1. Chaplain Martin

    While it is good to read that Pope Francis has beg forgiveness for the “non-action” even cover up by the Bishops and others of child sexual abuse, the proof will be in the action he takes. Nothing but quick and thorough action will do.

  2. Apparently francis has rightly discovered
    Jesus’ injunction to forgive “not 7 times but 70 times 7″ is disgraceful enough and absurd enough to abandon it.

    Now he needs to question the rest of this supposedly moral
    Christian nonsense.

    “Eat of my body” and “Be baptized and believe” or “Be condemned to Hell” (John 6:53-54) (Mark 16:16)

    In other words: “Follow exactly what I say or you will be obliterated”
    It isn’t free will.
    It isn’t rational.
    It isn’t good.
    It isn’t useful.

    There is no way to actually follow Jesus and remain civilized.
    And there is no reason to do so once you see where it leads.

    • @Lles Nats,

      “Sin vs. Crime”

      Ask yourself if a policeman can arrest a leprechaun
      and you have your answer!

      Sin is a violation against an asserted deity. It is BS.
      A ‘Sin’ then, is nonsense.

      For example, Coveting hurts god in the same way
      Wearing a green dress ‘hurts’ the leprechaun community.

      Crime is when you rape a child.
      If you don’t know the profound difference between crime and sin,
      (as many priests don’t)
      that is yet another mark of the sociopathic nature of religious teaching
      right there!

      Religion is an assault on human dignity.

      • @Lles Nats

        PLEASE!
        Take a moment to ponder this…

        Crime = real harm
        Sin = harms only leprechauns

        And you will see why religion is a CRIME against humanity.
        To punish someone for hurting a leprechaun,
        when there is no evidence that leprechauns are real —— IS A CRIME!

        • Jamie Townsend

          Atheist Max, that is awesome. Every once in a while you write something that really gets my attention.
          As you say..The divisive nature of sin and its difference from crime reveals the problem with religion in a way I had not considered. Most people do not want to do evil -they want to do good, but if we define the good only in a narrow parameter of ‘sin’ verses non-sin or righteousness, we necessarily ignore something of ourselves in favor of the God in question, be it Allah, Jesus, or whoever. – I reluctantly must agree with you. Maybe crime should be treated with real punishment and sin should be treated only with imaginary punishment?
          I can’t see how anyone could disagree with that.

  3. A Lay Catholic

    “Sitting bishops who have been found to have covered up abuse must be held accountable too, and removed from office.” AMEN! Will Pope Francis turn his words into action? I’m waiting….

    • Lynne Newington

      Unfortunately, in Australia so far it’s the deceased one’s who are wearing the blame, one against the other, the living versus the dead.
      And as far as holding them accountable, under his duristriction, the Holy See have refused to hand over files to the Royal Commission claiming the Status of an independant nation.
      Sounds very sincere doesn’t it.

  4. I believe him, but given the churches response towards these claims I’m just going to wait and see how they respond next time a claim comes up.

  5. Pope Francis meeting with victims and his words: “all bishops must carry out their pastoral ministry with the utmost care in order to help foster the protection of minors, and they will be held accountable.” — does not protect one child today.

    It’s just more words and vague promises coming from the Vatican.

    –Until bishops, cardinals, and church officials are held accountable, demoted, and fired, for having covered up and who are still covering up sex crimes against innocents kids, nothing has changed. He is just saying more words.

    –Until the full truth is exposed and church officials turn over all secret documents of child sex crimes and the names of the predator clergy to law enforcement, the church will never be a safe place for children.

    It is time for Pope Francis to stop making promises and take decisive actions NOW to get this abuse of power and the cover up of these crimes stopped because it is still going on throughout the world today.
    Victims of clergy sex abuse within this archaic system have been through enough pain and torture. The pope saying more words only adds to that hurt and pain, they want “actions” so that no other child will ever be sexually abused like them.

    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 Midwest Associate Director, 636-433-2511
    SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests

      • What “acknowledgement” ?

        The Pope has not yet brought the police to the door of the Vatican
        and handed over the priests nor has he handed out lists of accused priests
        And DELIVERED THEM
        TO JUSTICE FOR A FULL INVESTIGATION.

        Morality is doing what is right no matter what you are told.
        Religion is doing what you are told no matter what is right.

        I’m beyond disgusted. Close off Vatican City as a Terrorist State.
        Maybe that will get some attention.

  6. The Great God Pan

    “The fundamental question is what he means by holding bishops accountable.”

    He most likely means hiding them in Vatican City–where they are “citizens”–and subjecting them to trials there, rather than allowing real governments to deal with them. The Vatican still thinks it is not accountable to the secular world.

    And, frankly, until real governments step in and disabuse them of that notion, who is to say they are wrong?

  7. Augusta Wynn

    When Pope Francis Bergoglio speaks of bishops facilitating the rapes and sodomizing of children by priests and bishops and cardinals as “sins of omission”, he conveniently fails to mention that these “sinful” bishops were following papal orders. His own record in Argentina speaks for itself in this regard.

    Crimes against humanity called sins of omission.

    AW

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