After Four Years, Pope Francis Has Failed to Address Sexual Abuse in the Church

Today marks the fourth anniversary of Pope Francis’s election as pope. It is clear that the Pope has changed the tone of the church, stressing social justice over adherence to strict sexual conduct norms. He’s also spoken out against clerics who are full of themselves, and made protecting our environment the theme of an encyclical – he’s only written two.
I am willing to give the Pope a bit of a pass on his blind spot about women, and his refusal to understand the injustice of not ordaining women to the priesthood. I do not excuse it, but I realize that an 80-year-old prelate from Argentina may find it difficult to really “get” women’s issues.
It certainly riles me when he says that he’s for feminism, as long as it does not “negate motherhood” and “demand uniformity,” whatever that means. I don’t like the fact that the Vatican has not given up on complementarity – the notion that gender determines our character and our mission in life, with women the designated nurturers and dolers-out of empathy and kindness.
But some of the Pope’s actions truly are unforgivable. The Pope has demonstrated some serious weaknesses, particularly when it comes to policing priest pedophiles.
After Four Years, Pope Francis Has Failed to Address Sexual Abuse in Church
The Pope himself has extended mercy to priests who have abused children and minors. While kicking such pedophiles out of the priesthood would appear to be the very least the church ought to do, the Pope reduced that penalty for a handful of priest perpetrators.
The Pope also has failed to ensure that senior Vatican officials do all they can to address the abuse problem.
A case in point: senior Vatican official and German Cardinal Gerhard Muller’s comment on how the church should address the continuing problem of pedophilia in the church.
“I believe this can’t be resolved only by threatening with punishment, either civil or canonical,” Muller said. “We need a total change of mentality: From selfishness on sexuality, to the full respect of the person.”
Really? If the Cardinal does not realize that abusing children and minors is a little more than being “selfish,” the church is in big trouble.
His quote also gives more credence to the recent criticisms of sex abuse survivor Marie Collins when she recently resigned from the papal commission created to help the church address the problem.
Collins accused the institutional church of “having fine words in public” about addressing the problem, but espousing “contrary actions behind closed doors.”
Collins complained that the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors had been starved of resources, and frustrated by various Vatican departments.
She referred to attempts by some church officials to delay mechanisms to hold bishops accountable and to provide them with specific guidelines on how to respond to problems of abuse.
The last straw, she said in a statement, was when Muller’s Vatican office – the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, refused a simple recommendation, one Pope Francis agreed to – that the CDF acknowledge letters of abuse victims with a response.
Muller said the response and the follow-up support for victims ought to come from the bishops, not the Vatican.
The arrogance of that refusal is galling. But it is not hard to believe. I believe misogyny in the church, combined with the pride of clerics who believe only in their own power and who would do anything to protect it, has made the institutional church callous to the grave damage that pedophilia causes.
As Sister Simone Campbell recently concluded of Collins’ resignation: “Blocked by men. Isn’t this the real problem within the church?”
That “problem” results in Pope Francis showing “mercy” to a priest who had sexually abused children as young as 12, when “mercy” is not what is called for. That priest, Rev. Mauro Inzoli, had been kicked out of the priesthood by Pope Benedict XVI in 2014, and reinstated by Pope Francis, who sentenced him to a “life of prayer and penance” and barred him from public ministry.
In 2015, the CDF reportedly would not share their investigatory files with Italian prosecutors. The Vatican now is reconsidering Inzoli’s case after new crime came to light, and he was sentenced to more than four years in prison.
It is unclear how many priests have actually been excommunicated for the grave sin and crime of sexual abuse. Certainly, they do not appear to face automatic excommunication for their actions.
Yet, a woman religious and hospital administrator who agreed to let her hospital perform an abortion for a pregnant patient in order to save the mother’s life was very publicly excommunicated and humiliated. The sister in question had to resign her post and ask for forgiveness for her act of compassion in order to be reinstated.
The church, so quick to condemn the death of a potential human – a fetus – by abortion, still does not perceive the soul-killing nature of sexual abuse.
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