Will Pope Francis practice what he preaches?
I’m writing about two related news items. First, on July 25 the Attorney General of Pennsylvania made a personal request to Pope Francis to allow the grand jury report in a case of priestly sex abuse to be released (here). While the trial judge authorized the release a month ago, the Church managed to suppress it. On August 1, the diocese of Harrisburg released a list of more than 70 priests charged with abuse (here).
Pope Francis almost constantly proclaims the need for transparency regarding matters of clerical child abuse. He has been doing so for five years, but somehow there has been little progress. A papal letter ordering the bishops to share information would probably suffice, but none has been forthcoming.
The appeal by an attorney general is unprecedented. Almost by definition, a grand jury report contains matters that are not frivolous, and have considerable supporting evidence. Furthermore, highly sensitive matters can be redacted before the report is released.
After a week, neither the Vatican nor Pope Francis has responded to the request. While some will regard the list of names produced by the Harrisburg diocese as a praiseworthy response, it is not. A list of names of priests charged with pederasty omits all mention of the nature of the crime, attempts to cover up the crime, and bishops’ responses to the charges – whether they recycled the abusive priests or took adequate measures to shield minors. That is, most of the critical information is left out of the Church response.
Releasing the grand jury report falls far short of papal promises of total transparency. It contains information that was pried out of the church by the judicial system, and which is normally made public. It is far from making a clean breast of things. To date Pope Francis has made no attempt to practice what he preaches.