Q & A on Pope Francis and the abuse/cover up crisis
Francis has done more about the abuse crisis than his predecessors. Isn't that encouraging?
First, we should judge church officials NOT by what their terrible predecessors did but by what responsible officials would do. It's little comfort to a girl who's been raped under Francis to say "Well, under Benedict, there might have been an even smaller chance of your predator being ousted."
Neither Benedict nor Francis has exposed a single child molesting cleric or really punished a single complicit church official. They've made lots of reassuring talk but taken little meaningful action.
But several bishops have been forced out because of abuse. Isn't that good news?
We don't think this is true. A tiny handful of bishops (Finn in Kansas City, Nienstedt and Piche in St. Paul) have resigned. Were they forced out? Who knows. Continued Vatican secrecy means that no one can be sure whether they were forced and if so, what the real reason or reasons might have been.
There's nothing new about bishops resigning, while keeping their titles and paychecks and honors. A pope firing bishops would be new. And it would deter wrongdoing. But it didn't happen under Benedict and it isn't happening under Francis.
What about the Paraguay bishop? Francis ousted him.
That's true. But within hours, the official papal spokesman said that this move was NOT because the bishop mishandled abuse. (Bishop Rogelio Ricardo Livieres Plano had promoted Fr. Carlos Urrutigoity, who has been described by bishops from Switzerland to Pennsylvania as 'dangerous,' 'abnormal,' and 'a serious threat to young people' and against whom a $400,000 settlement was paid.)
The bishop was ousted because he alienated his brother bishops, called them gay in public, etc. (see: http://www.snapnetwork.org/rome_evidence_suggests_bishop_not_ousted_due_to_abuse)
But three US bishops accused of concealing abuse have resigned just this year. Isn't that progress?
Again, not a single one of the world's 5,100 bishops found the courage to say "Finn enabled abuse" or "Neinstedt endangered kids." That would have been progress.
Real progress will happen when 1) dozens of complicit bishops are openly defrocked, demoted or at least disciplined and denounced, and 2) Catholic officials say – clearly and publicly – that it's because they enabled or concealed child sex crimes.
We're glad these three aren't in office any more. Their resignations have temporarily made some Catholics and victims feel better. Their resignations, however, are not signs of reform. They are signs that these prelates are so clearly discredited that the Vatican had no choice but to let them step down.
What about the new papal commission?
Pete Saunders and Marie Collins are wonderful people. But this panel is based on a deceptive premise: that Vatican officials must "learn more" about abuse and cover up. They don't. They need courage, not information. They've dealt with this crisis for centuries in private and for decades in public. They know what to do.
This panel perpetuates the self-serving myth that Catholic officials need more information. What they need is courage. They usually refuse to do what's right because they are monarchs and like their power and the status quo more than anything else.
Over the past 20 years, thousands of lay people, including dozens or hundreds of clergy sex abuse victims, have sat or still sit on church abuse panels but these panels have produced little if any real reform.
The first-ever Vatican criminal trial will happen soon involving the Polish archbishop. Your thoughts?
There is an open, impartial, time-tested process for adjudicating child sex cases. It's called the secular justice system. That's where these cases belong, not in some new, untested, biased, self-serving internal church process. Catholic officials have always fought long and hard to keep child molesting clerics out of the criminal process. This is just the latest iteration of that dangerous pattern.
Francis set up a process to hold complicit bishops accountable. Isn't that progress?
No, he has not. He has SAID he'll set up a process. He hasn't done it yet. So at best, this is yet another promise by yet another prelate about yet another procedure that may never be used. And at worst, it's disingenuous.
Again, every pope can oust any bishop for virtually any reason. Pope’s don’t need more processes. (No new procedure was needed to get rid of the Bishop of Bling.)
If history is any guide, this tribunal will likely (and grudgingly and belatedly) be used once or twice – with great fanfare. Then, as public pressure wanes, it will return to "business as usual." (see our June 10 statement on our website)
We believe thousands of Catholic officials are hiding predators, promoting enablers, stonewalling police, destroying documents, deceiving parishioners and playing legal hardball against survivors. So even if a handful of prelates are disciplined, this is a tiny, tiny drop in an enormous ocean of corruption.
If this new "process" results in dozens of complicit bishops being ousted from office, we will be encouraged. But again, there is no shortage of church processes and panels and procedures and protocols.
There IS, however, a shortage of courage by church officials, who still refuse to use the vast power they have to stop, expose and prevent clergy sex crimes and cover ups.
Remember: The pope has virtually limitless power. By now, he could have sacked dozens of complicit bishops. He has, however, sacked no one. Nor has he demoted, disciplined or denounced even one complicit church official – from Cardinal to custodian, because of abuse cover ups. None of his predecessors did either.
So in the face of this widespread denial, timidity and inaction, let's be prudent, stay vigilant and withhold judgment until we see if and how this panel might act.
Imagine a huge oil company that had never disciplined a single manager and won't admit it's drilling offshore. If it sets up an internal panel to recommend possible manager discipline to its CEO, few would get excited.
That's what we have here. Catholic officials have disciplined virtually no one for ignoring, concealing or enabling abuse, anywhere on the planet. And Catholic officials won't admit there are deliberate cover ups, instead disingenuously claiming "mistakes," "oversights," and "miscommunication." Not one Catholic official on the planet found the courage to publicly blast Bishop Robert Finn of Missouri who was convicted of withholding evidence of child sex crimes from the police, even though more kids were hurt as a result of his law-breaking.
If you can't properly name a crisis, you're likely unable to fix it.
Kids need a courageous church culture, not another church committee. Kids need brave behavior by church officials, not more bureaucracy. Kids need church members and staff to bring evidence to prosecutors, not to Vatican officials.
Church officials still fight civil lawsuits, criminal prosecutions, governmental investigations and independent institutions like the United Nations. So at one level, this looks again like an effort to stone-wall secular authorities, saying "Back off. Go away. We're dealing with this internally."
Accountability necessarily involves consequences for wrongdoers. Whether a new, untested, Vatican-ruled process will mean consequences for wrongdoers remains to be seen.
This move will give hope to some. But hope doesn't safeguard kids. Punishing men who endanger kids.. That is not happening. And that must happen – soon – if the church is to be safer.
What would you like to see Francis do?
Turn over every document about clerics who commit and conceal child sex crimes to law enforcement. Insist that bishops lobby for, not against, secular legislative reforms to protect kids. And quickly, publicly and harshly fire dozens of complicit bishops.
(Note: on 3/7/13, we listed 20 steps Pope Francis should take in this crisis: http://www.snapnetwork.org/rome_snap_s_20_steps_for_pope_francis
Put the phrase "Francis should" – in quotes – in our website search box and find 28 statements outlining what we'd like to see him do.)
With lightning speed, Francis ousted a German bishop who mismanaged church money. But with glacial speed, Francis ignores bishops who endanger children and protect predators.
He's making major strides in improving church finances, governance, and morale. But he's posturing on abuse and cover ups. He's making nearly no meaningful strides to actually prevent abuse and cover ups.
If anything, Francis' popularity has perhaps made children more vulnerable in the church, because so many people wrongly assume that since Francis seems to be an activist, he must be taking action to stop abuse and cover ups. But he's not.
There are few differences between popes John Paul II, Benedict and Francis. All three apologized to and met with victims, only after horrific disclosures were made that couldn't be ignored. All three, however, have refused to take proven steps to expose those who commit or conceal clergy sex crimes. All three have promoted priests and bishops who have protected predators and endangered kids.
Each new pope has worked harder than his predecessor to convince parishioners, the public and the press that he's "fixing" this crisis. But none of them have taken the kind of clear, strong and decisive public steps needed to really make a difference.