SNAP responds to Pope Francis's remarks about the importance of vocation discernment
(For Immediate Release June 17, 2022)
Pope Francis spoke on Friday about the importance of scrutinizing candidates for the priesthood to ensure that the men who reach ordination are well-formed and mature. We hope that his concern extends to making sure that they teach these candidates to recognize and report grooming and abusive behavior, as well.
In a meeting with seminary formators from the Milan archdiocese on June 17, the Pope said that the process of accompanying those discerning vocations to the priesthood requires sensitivity and expert skill. “When discerning whether or not a person can embark on a vocational journey, it is necessary to scrutinize and evaluate him in an integral way: to consider his way of experiencing affections, relationships, spaces, roles, responsibilities, as well as his frailties, fears, and imbalances,” Pope Francis said.
We share Pope Francis’ concern over the priesthood. We absolutely agree with the Pope that ‘it is necessary to scrutinize and evaluate’ candidates for the priesthood, but we also know that there is no valid diagnostic tool known to man that can help screen out, potential child abusers. It is also no secret that simple psychological evaluations can be passed with flying colors by those who already have a reservation to commit sexual crimes against children or adults. Knowing these facts, our chief concern for seminarians in 2022 is that they are taught that abuse is not a thing of the past but an ongoing problem, and one that they can help prevent by learning to recognize and report signs of grooming or abusive behavior
For example, the late Fr. Robert McWilliams, who was convicted in November 2021 for sexually exploiting boys, had appeared to be outgoing and even gregarious at times. The Diocese of Cleveland came under heavy scrutiny regarding McWilliams who was made pastor without a long work history. McWilliams took his own life in February 2022. Clearly, McWilliams was able to sail through the evaluation process and blended well in the seminary and parish life. The truth is this, Robert McWilliams didn’t start exploiting boys upon his ordination, but becoming a priest only gave him more authority and gravitas that he could use to hurt kids. This example underscores our concern.
We can see that the Pope is deliberately framing the scandal as something that's largely in the past – by focusing on already hurt victims, not on still-vulnerable children when he said, ‘those who have experienced sin and failure, priests who are experts in humanity … men who know how to listen to the cry of those who suffer.’ This is terrific public relations and a great rally call for seminarians, but it's not grounded in reality. No matter how hard Pope Francis or any church employee may try to depict this scandal as “in the past,” it's very much a part of the church right now and in the future.
Now, we have more clarity about Pope Francis’s concern for more priests and maybe more concern about his intentions regarding abuse. He's willing to discuss the change in several parts of the church. But it’s clear to us that when it comes to pedophile priests and complicit bishops, Pope Francis’ concerns do not go far enough.
CONTACT: Mike McDonnell, SNAP Communications Manager([email protected], 267-261-0578), Shaun Dougherty, SNAP Board President ([email protected], 814-341-8386) Zach Hiner, SNAP Executive Director ([email protected], 517-974-9009)
(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)