St. Francis was the greatest reformer in the history of the church, Pope Francis must do the same
There is no greater example of courageous reform in the history of the Catholic church than St. Francis of Assisi. He lived with and demanded justice for those in our society that have been victimized and destroyed by the powerful. During his time he stood up an challenged bishops and cardinals and the Pope.
Thousands of victims of childhood rape and sexual assault by priests have been, like St. Francis, courageously coming forward around the world and demanding that the Catholic Church stop the cover up of sex crimes by clergy.
Pope Francis must, as his very first act, decree the zero tolerance of sexual abuse of children by priests. This one act would, in a single stroke of his pen, protect millions of children from harm, bring justice to hundreds of thousands of victims of clergy sexual abuse, and turn the church finally on a path towards true healing, recovery and reform.
Amazingly, across most of the world today if you are a priest and have been found by your bishop to have raped or sexually assaulted a child, you can remain in the priesthood and in ministry, your crimes left secret and unpunished.
Most of these child molesting priests are secretly transferred into new assignment by their local bishops, with the approval or indifference of the Vatican. An alarming number were also transferred across state and international boundaries, deploying the unique geographic reach of the church and its command structure, which remains steeped in secrecy, to facilitate the concealment and flight of child sex offenders. In essence, criminalizing a part of the Catholic church as an organization. This is especially true of religious orders, like Pope Francis’ own Jesuit order. Pope Francis has a special responsibility to hold accountable Jesuit official around the world who has covered up child sex crimes.
The new Pope also comes from a part of the world that often lacks human rights protections for children. The cultural and religious power of the Catholic Church and its deference for priests makes it difficult if not impossible for children who are abused to come forward and report the crimes happening to them. It’s likely there will be a new wave of abuse reports by priests that will occur from these parts of the world.
There is no better advice to Pope Francis on how he must deal with child sex crimes by priests and cover up then from St. Francis himself: “Start by doing what is necessary, then what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”
SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. We’ve been around for 23 years and have more than 12,000 members. Despite the word “priest” in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers. Visit us at SNAPnetwork.org.