Pope Francis claims Progress on Child Abuse
The headline: “Pope calls PA grand jury report an ‘example’ of Church progress.” Finally, more than a month after the grand jury report from Pennsylvania documented decades of atrocities, Pope Francis got around to commenting on it. He proclaimed it was good news: “I think that in Pennsylvania, for example, we see that for the first 70 years many priests had fallen to this corruption. Then in recent times, it diminished because the Church noticed that it had to fight in another way. In previous times things were covered up.”
Pope Francis deserves credit for acknowledging that “in previous times things were covered up.” Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict flatly denied this. John Paul claimed priesty abuse was a rare aberration and that a cabal of anti-Catholics was smearing the Church. Pope Francis finally admits the Church was systematically covering up this heinous crime. He didn’t admit that prior popes lied and were part of the cover-up, but that is implied. Yet the media somehow failed to reach this conclusion.
Immediately after the grand jury report, the Vatican floated the meme that since most of the crimes in it were old, the Church, through its reforms, has essentially eliminated new cases of sex abuse. This is good news - the Church has already fixed the problem. This meme not only made the rounds of the Catholic press, it was quickly picked up by some mainstream media. Vox’s Tara Isabella Burton used it almost immediately, and supplemented it with disinformation of her own: “New Catholic sex abuse allegations show how long justice can take in a 16-year scandal.”
More than a month later, the Vatican’s meme has largely been accepted. Although it is clearly erroneous, the media have failed to refute it. Now, with the coast seemingly clear, Pope Francis has chosen to repeat the claim that the Church has largely eliminated new cases of abuse. As I’ve noted before, this meme is deceitful. Reports of priestly sex abuse are always delayed, even more than reports of heterosexual rape (Trump and the Reporting of Rape).
History of the Abuse Crisis
When the scandals first emerged in Louisiana in the 1980s - contrary to Vox’s claim of a 16-year scandal - nearly all cases were old, well beyond the statute of limitations. In Boston, at the turn of the millennium (Vox’s purported origin of the crisis), the Massachusetts attorney general found that priests had abused hundreds of children over the prior forty years. Again, the reports were old. The Spotlight team of the Boston Globe reported, “Almost all the cases were beyond the statute of limitations” (Betrayal, p. 8).
In Australia, the Royal Commission found that the average delay in reporting priestly abuse was about 30 years. The same pattern occurs throughout the world. The fact that the crimes reported by the Pennsylvania grand jury are old, does not mean that the Church has successfully addressed its abuse problem. Reports of priestly child abuse are always old. The delay in Pennsylvania is essentially no different than in prior locations – and is considerably shorter than some.
Pope Francis’ long-delayed comments on the Pennsylvania grand jury report are false. There are no signs of progress. It looks like Pope Francis compounded the abuse problem with further deceit – much like his predecessors. But it is possible that he is just surprisingly ignorant about priestly pederasty, and that neither his advisors nor his special commission on child abuse has informed him of the facts. But whether Pope Francis is deceitful or just grossly negligent, this is newsworthy - and it is not good news. But there is no sign that the news media are willing to report it.