FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 03-13-2023
When Jose Bergolio became Pope ten years ago, he vowed to hundreds of thousands of survivors around the world that he would put an end to the church’s global system of clerical sex crimes and cover-up. To do that, he would need to do what his predecessors refused to do: make it a universal church law that if a priest sexually assaults a child, he will be removed from the priesthood. Furthermore, if his bishop covered up for him, the bishop would also be defrocked. It would take one paragraph and one stroke of the pen for Pope Francis to do this. The question survivors around the world are asking today is: after ten years, why does he continue to break the promise he made to us?
Without zero tolerance written into church law, no reforms of church abuse policies or management practices, papal prayers or expressions of remorse, prevention education and seminary training, will ever succeed at putting an end to clergy abuse and cover-up. As absurd as it sounds, in the Catholic Church, you cannot be a woman and a priest, you cannot be a married man and a priest, but you can be a child abuser and a priest. This makes the priesthood perhaps the only occupation in civil society working with children and families where you can rape, sexually assault, or abuse a child and remain in that occupation working with children and families.
Without a global zero tolerance law, priests who abuse children around the world can remain in ministry without violating church law. Without a global zero tolerance law, bishops and church officials who transfer and conceal sex offender clergy can legally remain in their positions of authority.
Right now in Poland, the world is learning more about how Pope John Paul II, the first Pope in modern times who had to respond to public exposure of clerical sex crimes, covered up these very same crimes and transferred the offenders to new assignments. The Vatican, knowing full well knew what he had done, insisted on canonizing him a saint, confident his misconduct would remain a secret or be met with excuses and indifference. Similarly, before his recent death, long-suspected documented evidence surfaced, proving that Pope Benedict also concealed and transferred priest sex offenders, something he had publicly denied three times. And credible evidence continues to surface that Pope Francis was involved in covering up evidence of clergy sex abuse when Archbishop of Buenos Aires, indicating the same pattern as his predecessors. Why have no records been independently reviewed, much less released, of the cases of priest abuse that Francis oversaw as an Archbishop or earlier in his career as a powerful Jesuit Provincial? Francis has been hailed by some as the Pope who finally lifted Papal secrecy. He seems to have plenty of secrets of his own that he refuses to lift.
Is it reasonable to expect that when a Cardinal who covered up sex crimes becomes Pope, he is going to enact and enforce a law that he himself has repeatedly broken?
Yet this October, Francis is convening a worldwide synod of bishops to finalize his legacy and set the future direction of the church. Every conceivable topic and concern is on the agenda except one: clergy sex abuse and cover-up. If Francis does not convene his synod before his bishops with the announcement of clear universal church Zero Tolerance law, whatever else he has accomplished in his Papacy will have been a practical and moral failure.
Catholic dogma and teaching has historically claimed that Saint Peter of the Gospels, the famous disciple, was given the unique and singular authority by Jesus to lead the new Christian movement. Catholics believe Pope Francis is in a direct line of succession to Peter. In the Gospels, Jesus tells Peter, to his utter incredulity, that after his arrest he will betray him three times by publicly declaring he does not know him. When he does so, Peter remembers what Jesus had said to him. The Gospel says he was full of shame and “wept bitterly.” Why would Jesus put in charge of his church a man he knew would betray him? Perhaps he also knew that Peter would realize the depth of his betrayal and not conceal or cover it up, but openly weep about it, repent, and change. It’s hard to imagine a more timely lesson for Pope Francis as he enters his second decade on Peter’s Chair.
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Program Director of Nate’s Mission