Q & A on Pope Francis and the abuse/cover up crisis

By David Clohessy, director of SNAP ([email protected], 314 566 9790 cell, 314 645 5915 home)

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.

Showing 12 comments

  • Danny Murray
    commented 2017-06-14 14:48:44 -0500
    Abuse by priests in Amherstview Ontario a small Ontario town in the seventies, and eighties was so rampant that the priest had his way with many boys. Nothing was done about it and one priest had a great lawyer and won in court, even though many boys complained and two went to court. However now many other victims are coming forward. This same priest, who is still a priest, but they won’t allow him to give mass, but he can attend all other functions, will soon have to go to trial again. It takes many years for victims to recover and find the strength to speak out. Civil case punishment needs to actually punish this abuse with fines that make this huge corporation, call it like it is, fall to its knees. This corporation, the Catholic Church, is all about money and until you hit them there they will continue to abuse children because they obviously don’t care. They have ben throwing out a hundred thousand here and there to victims asking them to sign non disclosure agreements this is a crime in itself and the pope and everyone else knows how to play the game. We need a new playing field that actually results in protecting our children. What is happening now is hard to watch. You need to watch the first scene in Spotlight about seven times to realize the significance of what they are doing. IT IS WRONG AND NEED TO BE RIGHTED NOW.
  • Rosemary McHugh
    commented 2016-05-29 15:48:59 -0500
    Thank you, David! This is brilliantly written. The pope and bishops continue to say what people want to hear and then do what they want since they are allowed to be above the law and subject to no one.
    Sincerely, Dr Rosemary Eileen McHugh, MD, MSpir
  • Barbra Graber
    commented 2016-02-11 14:13:50 -0600
    Awesome article David. can’t believe I’m just now getting to reading it. you’ve laid out clearly what all denominations need to demand. Thank you, brother.
  • Jack Cesare
    commented 2016-01-06 12:25:56 -0600
    if you think the boston dioceses cover up crimes on children—wait till the cover up of the albany ny dioceses where we had many rapists at one time—father mecure raped so many and took them out of state—the janitor gene hubert ran sex ring out of saint teresa of avila in albany ny where i and so many friends were raped by him-he also took victims in his volkswagon,picked up other kids in colony ny &took them to paradox lakes and raped -my friend steven erickson was in that volkswagon and was raped multiple times by the janitor and came forward in my case against the dioceses and won but i did not take their blood money-i am waiting for child victims act to pass and let a jury decided-father dvid bentley and 3 other priest raped at parsons home for children they raped cutis oath out and his brothers from 9-16 yrs old-they received settlements and father bentley is living free in kentucky520-578-2200
  • Peter Nolan
    commented 2015-12-06 16:35:44 -0600
    Church officials don’t need courage, they need humility. They’re arrogant, narcissistic, controlling abusers who do not have consciences. Check out “dark triad” on the Internet. This describes them perfectly. If Pope Francis is sincere (I doubt it), he won’t be able to make changes in an institution that is evil and rotten.
  • Andrew Wesley
    commented 2015-12-01 21:13:53 -0600
    The two biggest crooks regarding pedophile priests in the Catholic Church is JPII & Benedict. Both made references that pedophilia is an American problem and both were sadly mistaken. When the church found out that pedophile priests were violating children around the world nothing was done. Nothing!!! I have zero faith in this pope. I’m a victim as are many of us that belong to SNAP and I’ve come to the realization that the church protects its own. I don’t believe in my lifetime that any bishops or cardinals will be dismissed, laizied or demoted. Dolan transferred over $60M to some fictitious cemetery fund which was approved by Benedict. Dolan should be brought up on fraud charges. Perhaps one courageous judge on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals (Chicago) will act accordingly and begin judicial procedures against Dolan. Perhaps??
  • Peter Nolan
    commented 2015-09-29 17:55:26 -0500
    Francis must have the best PR people money can buy! He will do nothing to change the situation of rampant clergy sexual abuse, because the vast majority of priests have done it, or are doing it right now. I heard on the news a few days ago that 30 million U.S. Catholics have left the church. How are these nasty men going to pay all their legal costs with that many people no longer shelling out donations?
  • Carolyn Deidre Plummer
    commented 2015-09-23 22:01:47 -0500
    I can’t stand this religion……………….what the hell does anyone see in a bunch of lunatic pedophiles anyway. Makes me sick watching the US public fawning over the Pope’s visit. He’s complicit in not defrocking those who hid abuse….let alone abused!!!!!!!
  • Jeb (James) Barrett
    commented 2015-09-18 08:56:20 -0500
    Hiding behind a cloak of primitive claims of position and authority, religious leaders do only what supports their agenda of maintaining political power and their acquired wealth and social position. Skepticism is in order of we are ever to be free of their free ride from accountability.
  • Betty Clermont
    commented 2015-09-04 09:36:07 -0500
    Kudos to David Clohessy for his courageous truth-telling and for first and foremost ALWAYS standing with the survivors.
  • Iain Pattison
    commented 2015-08-12 16:56:53 -0500
    Good post SNAP.
    Good questions and good answers. Clear, comprehensive and helpful. Will people ever see thru this Pope Francis?
  • @ tweeted this page. 2015-08-11 17:07:42 -0500

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