Pressure mounts on pope for tougher action on abuse scandals

With the Catholic Church rocked by a devastating US report into child sex abuse, Pope Francis has this week sharpened his criticism on the explosive issue — but he remains under pressure to enact far-reaching changes.

The US grand jury report accused more than 300 “predator” priests in the state of Pennsylvania of abusing more than 1 000 children over seven decades, sparking a fresh bout of soul-searching among senior Catholics across the world.

“The clock is ticking for all of us in Church leadership. Catholics have lost patience with us and civil society has lost confidence in us,” Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston, who has been advising the pope on the issue, said in a statement last week.

The archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, added: “It is not enough just to say sorry. Structures that permit or facilitate abuse must be broken down and broken down forever.

“Why does this not happen? Why must such a simple affirmation have to be repeated so often?” he said at a weekend mass in the Irish capital.


Martin, who will welcome the pope this weekend on his visit to Ireland — a country where abuse scandals have dealt profound blows to the Church’s credibility — said he believes the Vatican’s commission is too small to be effective.

Amid harrowing details of abuse, the US report directs this scathing comment to the Church hierarchy: “Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all. For decades.”

The report once again puts the spotlight on Pope Francis, who has been criticised for not acting quickly enough to clamp down on the sprawling cases of abuse as well as for a reluctance to distance himself from certain cardinals suspected of omerta — a code of silence about criminal activity and a refusal to give evidence to the police..

READ MORE: Pope says on side of victims of US ‘predator’ priests

“With shame and repentance, we acknowledge as an ecclesial community that we were not where we should have been, that we did not act in a timely manner, realising the magnitude and the gravity of the damage done to so many lives. We showed no care for the little ones,” the pontiff said in his letter earlier this week.

At the end of May, the pope wrote a letter to the people of Chile, where an unfolding abuse scandal has sparked an impassioned debate.

This week in an unprecedented letter he addressed all of the globe’s 1.3 billion Catholics about the “atrocities” of abuse.

‘Excuses aren’t enough’

While Francis acknowledged the work being done in some parts of the world to protect children, he admitted that the Church had “delayed” in applying the necessary sanctions.

The pope “did not, however, offer any new specifics” on possible new accountability measures, said American Vatican-watcher John Allen, noting that Francis did not make a single mention of the word “bishop”.

“Among great swathes of public opinion, the idea is beginning to gain traction that mea culpas, statements and meetings with victims are not enough any more,” according to Marco Politi, an Italian Vatican expert.

“It is now up to Francis to act as supreme legislator” by modifying the Church’s canon law, Politi wrote in the Fatto Quotidiano newspaper.

He added that there were already “virtuous examples” in this area in the United States, Britain and Germany.

Journalist Emiliano Fittipaldi, who has carried out several investigations into the workings of the Church, told the media that Francis could go further.

“The pope could force bishops’ conferences to send recent reports of abuse to judicial authorities,” he said. “Excuses aren’t enough any more.”

That is a sentiment echoed by many abuse victims.

“We don’t want a trial within the Vatican!” said Francesco Zanardi, leader of an Italian abuse survivors’ association.

According to Vatican-focused blog “Il Sismografo,” the pope could soon publish specific guidelines for bishops on how to handle abuse claims — but the Vatican has not confirmed this.

In 2016, Francis instigated a change in canon law which meant bishops could be removed if they were found to be “negligent” in the face of reports of paedophilia.

However, within Church law there is no wider requirement to report cases to the relevant judicial authorities. In certain countries this is a legal obligation but in others, bishops are loath to make it a rule.

Some commentators are also urging the Church to use its response to the crisis to undertake a reconsideration of its stance on celibacy.

In an opinion article published this week in French newspaper Le Monde, French-Canadian writer Nancy Huston appealed to the pontiff to abolish celibacy for priests and recognise the importance of sexuality for human well-being.

But even though Pope Francis said in 2014 that “celibacy is not a dogma”, the Vatican does not yet seem ready to take the step of ending the practice.

© Agence France-Presse

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Catherine Marciano
Catherine Marciano
AFP journalist in the Vatican and Italy.

Related stories

Catholic NGO boss accused of racism and abuse in Sudan

The aid worker allegedly called his security guard a ‘slave’

Crisis, what crisis? How not to handle a pandemic

So far, most countries on the African continent are dealing with Covid-19, but not all leaders are taking the coronavirus pandemic seriously

What Gaia theory can tell us about the outbreak of novel coronavirus

Automatic-control mechanisms are part of the intelligent self-regulation that occurs in nature. Thus, the outbreak of Covid-19 could very well be Gaia’s automatic reaction to restore homeostatic equilibrium

South Africa must have a stake in artificial intelligence technology

The country needs an institute that will be a conduit for AI knowledge to industry, society and government

The Pope’s message of unity and reconciliation

The Pope’s primary message to each country responded to their unique circumstances

Fake FDI tops global growth

Pope Francis this week exhorted the political leaders of Mauritius, known as a tax haven and enclave for shell companies, to promote...
Advertising

Subscribers only

Dozens of birds and bats perish in extreme heat in...

In a single day, temperatures in northern KwaZulu-Natal climbed to a lethal 45°C, causing a mass die-off of birds and bats

Q&A Sessions: Frank Chikane on the rainbow where colours never...

Reverend Frank Chikane has just completed six years as the chairperson of the Kagiso Trust. He speaks about corruption, his children’s views and how churches can be mobilised

More top stories

ATM withdrawal halts no-confidence vote against the president

The party wants the court to rule on the secret ballot issue first, with the case set to be heard in early February

Ruling deals crushing blow to zero-hours contracts

Ferrero factory workers have won the first battle in what might become one of South Africa’s next wars on casual and precarious work

Eusebius McKaiser: Mpofu, Gordhan caught in the crosshairs

The lawyer failed to make his Indian racist argument and the politician refused to admit he had no direct evidence

Corruption forces health shake-up in Gauteng

Dr Thembi Mokgethi appointed as new health MEC as premier seeks to stop Covid-19 malfeasance
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…