First World Pope or Third World Pope?

“What’s best for kids, a pope from a developed nation or a developing nation?”

That’s what a journalist asked us today. Her theory was that in developed nations, prelates dealt with abuse more and that their experience would be helpful.

We disagree with both premises.

Experience can be positive, but only if one learns the right lesson from it. No prelate on the planet had dealt more with abuse than Benedict. Yet his experience apparently taught him that little in the church needed to change.


When caught doing wrong, one has two choices. One can stop doing wrong, or one can try much harder to conceal future wrongdoing. With many bishops in the developed world, the approach that seems to be most common is using experience to help ensure you won’t be caught again.

The journalist’s question also presupposes that there’s more knowledge about clergy sex crimes in the developed world or more abused kids in the developed world report it. We’re not sure that’s true at all. In our 25 years of experience, we believe the rate of abuse and cover up is roughly the same across the globe (and that bishops likely deal with it in the same way across the globe).

In the developing world, it is in fact possible that there’s even more abuse and cover-up. First, there’s a far greater power differential in those nations between parishioner and prelate – in terms of wealth, power, education and status. That disparity makes it easier for predators to prey on kids and to get by with their crimes longer. Second, in developing countries, there tends to be less vigorously funded law enforcement. Similarly, there is usually a less independent and aggressive media more willing to investigate these types of crimes. Add all these factors together and you get a culture that makes it difficult for victims to come forward and difficult for outside organizations to get a handle on what’s happening.

So where a papabile comes from is less important. What he has done about clergy abuse is more important. We caution against making similar assumptions, and urge that all concerned with kids' safety look at the man’s actions, not his words or his native country.

-- Barbara Dorris Outreach Director 314-862-7688

Showing 2 comments

  • Lani Halter
    commented 2013-03-12 12:15:05 -0500
    Matthew 18:6 “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it were better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck, and to be drown in the depths of the sea.”

    That, is exactly what I believe should be done, with convicted pedophiles. And, I think that people like Roger Mahoney who aid and abet pedophiles, should be afraid that such will be their fate, as well.
  • Lani Halter
    commented 2013-03-10 00:21:33 -0600
    Thank you for further education. I do think that in fact conditions for victims are likely worse in the less developed countries, for all the reasons you state. Frankly, I don’t know if there is a priest who is currently a Cardinal, who should be elected Pope. This whole mess has gone on so long now, I really don’t know if there is one who is stong enough both physically and pyschologically and spiritually to be up to the task. Please, tell me. In your twenty odd years of trying to help stop the abuse and to change the reporting system and structure, have you ever actually encountered any Catholic priest whose actions have shown you that he could and if given the chance, would, make the wrenching changes that are needed immediately and that need to represent permanent change in the church? I truly hope that you have. But, for myself only being a convert to Catholicism in 1994, after my daughter was confirmed in 1992 when Archbishop Cardinal Roger Mahoney was the celebrant at her confirmation class mass, I’m not in a position to know if there is actually such a priest. I certainly know that I became sorely disallusioned with Mahoney as the years progressed.

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