Pope Francis addressed the sexual abuse scandal in his speech this morning. He stated that “all responsible will be held accountable.”
“I have in my heart, the stories of suffering and pain of the minors who were sexually abused by priests. And, it continues to overwhelm me with shame that the people who were charged with taking care of these tender ones violated that trust and caused them a profound pain. God weeps.” Pope Francis said at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, according to a translation of the Spanish remarks by The Washington Post.
“The crimes and sins of sexual abuse of minors cannot be kept in secret any longer.” he continued.
This statements follows criticism from victims and their supporters over the prior lack of comment on the sex abuse scandal during the Pope’s previous speeches:
Victims’ groups had complained earlier in the week that Francis neglected to address their plight when he congratulated bishops for their “courageous” and generous response to the scandal. Sunday’s meeting took place a day after the pope celebrated Mass with Justin Rigali, the cardinal who was archbishop in Philadelphia when the archdiocese was accused of sheltering pedophiles.
This makes the Pope’s statements in front of the bishops and seminarians all the more powerful. These are the very people who will deal with these issues. To say that all people, including the bishops who moved abusive clergy members rather than punish them, will face repercussions is quite the statement. Whether that happens is another matter. As some advocates noted, it is one thing to say something will be done and another to actually do it:
The Rev. Tom Doyle, a canon lawyer who worked at the Vatican embassy in Washington and is now an advocate for victims, said that including more than just victims of abusive clergy “seriously minimizes” the problem in the church.
“We don’t think we’re going to get any real support to change this from the leadership in the Vatican,” Doyle said in a phone interview. “They’re having this big meeting of families. But there’s been no real room for all the families that the Catholic Church has destroyed through sexual abuse.”
The main victims’ support group, SNAP, dismissed the meeting as an exercise in public relations.
“Is a child anywhere on Earth safer now that a pope, for maybe the seventh or eighth time or ninth time, has briefly chatted with abuse victims? No,” said SNAP’s David Clohessy.
What happens after this remains to be seen. I would like to think that the Pope is serious about addressing these problems, particularly with punishing the bishops who knew about the abuse and protected the abusers instead of the victims. I am not sure, however, how the Pope would implement these changes. Who would be in charge? Who would make the final decisions? What consequences would those guilty parties face?
There is also the legal issue of statute of limitations. Many of the cases happened decades ago, and in some states no one can be charged due to the time limit. We may end up with a situation where nothing can legally be done outside of suing the Church, which already occurred in many cases.
Yet I doubt the plan involves anything close to turning bishops over to the police. I suspect, much like the above advocates, that the most that will happen is that someone may lose a position of power. It is unlikely anyone will be held criminally responsible.