Pope Francis: “This time I really mean it!!”

Pope Francis delivered a Christmas speech (here). The AP report began: “Pope Francis vowed Friday that the Catholic Church will ‘never again’ cover up clergy sex abuse and demanded that priests who have raped and molested children turn themselves in.” He added, “Let it be clear that before these abominations the church will spare no effort to do all that is necessary to bring to justice whosoever has committed such crimes.” How is this vow any different from the vow of “zero tolerance” he has made his mantra for over five years?

The article continues: “Francis acknowledged that the church in the past had failed to treat the problem seriously, blaming leaders who out of inexperience or short-sightedness acted ‘irresponsibly’ by refusing to believe victims. But he vowed that going forward the church would ‘never again’ cover up or dismiss cases.”

What Pope Francis Admitted

In short, Pope Francis admitted that mistakes were made. Church leaders refused to believe victims. But these mistakes were due to “inexperience or short-sightedness.” There is no admission of sinfulness much less wickedness or criminality. These were simply mistakes resulting from failure “to treat the problem seriously.” Had the charges been theft, much less assault, there would be no issue about failing to take such charges seriously. But somehow Pope Francis has no qualms about failing to “seriously consider” charges of raping children. Furthermore, there is no hint of a mea culpa in any of this. Both he and his predecessors over the last 35 years are implicitly excluded, remaining above the fray, and retaining their moral infallibility.

The Memory of Pope Francis

The “memory of Pope Francis” is deliberately ambiguous. Virtually all public statements by Pope Francis are scripted. Pope Francis doesn’t tweet, and we have almost no genuine, impromptu remarks from him. I’ll discuss one of his rare unscripted talks later. The pope is over eighty years old. We know little about the soundness of his memory or the depth and frequency of his “senior” moments. When it comes to the “memory of Pope Francis,” we mainly have evidence of how his handlers and speechwriters want him to be positioned and memorialized.

First, he and his speechwriters seem to have forgotten that shortly after taking office, Pope Francis declared the child abuse scandal unacceptable and made a promise of “zero tolerance” for child abuse. Soon thereafter, he created a special papal commission on child abuse to address the problem. This was over five years ago. Pope Francis has not created any other special commissions to address problems he failed to “seriously consider.” In fact, both Francis and his predecessors – who also proclaimed policies of zero tolerance for child abuse – spoke seriously about the problem for quite some time. They just didn't do much about it.

While from the start Pope Francis declared the child abuse scandal to be a crisis, he waited years before meeting with any victims. Prior to meeting any victims, the pope found time to hold a number of meetings with preachers of the Gospel of Prosperity - even though he repeatedly declared that gospel to be heresy. Pope Francis also held a much publicized meeting with a Kentucky clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. Listening to victims clearly was not one of his priorities.

Pope Francis’ special commission on child abuse initially had two victims on its board. Within a few years both resigned to protest the commission’s ineffectiveness. He delayed replacing them, and did nothing to reform the commission. He even let it lapse. When he re-started it, he declared that he would no longer appoint any victims to its board. Rather than deny the voice of victims, Pope Francis simply squelched it.

On December 27, three former members of Pope Francis’ commission on child abuse proposed various changes to the commission “to make it more effective in pursuing policy reforms” (here). Not only did they complain of the Vatican “bureaucracy” impeding the work of the commission, they mentioned that in over four years, Francis never held a working session with the commission – yet another indication of papal priorities.

Actions speak louder than words. While Pope Francis is not reluctant to provide lip service regarding the sex abuse crisis, his actions are negligible. His strongest action squelched the voice of victims.

Pope Francis, In His Own Words

Pope Francis is virtually always scripted. But about a year ago, he gave an impromptu “talk” to reporters following his trip to Chile. He railed about their coverage of a Chilean bishop multiply-accused of child abuse, denounced their reports as “calumny,” declared the bishop’s innocence, and defied the reporters to produce evidence of his guilt.

Pope Francis ordered an advisor to investigate the charges against the bishop. A couple days later, the advisor produced a 1,500 page document, largely drawn from legal proceedings, which documented the bishop’s crimes. Pope Francis apologized and acknowledged his error.

First, this error involved the rejection, either explicitly or implicitly, of testimony from multiple victims - precisely the “irresponsible” behavior Pope Francis accused others of. There is virtually no doubt that Pope Francis was briefed about the accused bishop prior to his trip. This was a prominent case involving a senior member of the Chilean Church. It is barely conceivable that Pope Francis was misinformed, but even that implies profound ignorance combined with a remarkable lack of curiosity. Pope Francis is in his eighties, and like John Paul II in his later years, is probably far more impaired than the Vatican admits.

Pope Francis’s New Solution

Pope Francis boldly proclaimed, “Let it be clear that before these abominations the church will spare no effort to do all that is necessary to bring to justice whosoever has committed such crimes.” What did he actually propose to do?

As the headline says, “Pope to priestly sex abusers: Turn yourselves in.” He told pederast priests, “Convert and hand yourself over to human justice, and prepare for divine justice.” In other words, while claiming ‘the church will spare no effort,” neither Pope Francis nor the Church is actually doing anything. Pope Francis is not holding bishops accountable, as virtually all observers have recommended. He is not requiring bishops to notify legal authorities of alleged abusers, unless of course that is already required by law. (In fact, the Catholic Church in the USA has lobbied hard to block any such requirement.) While the Vatican and the papal commission on child abuse have repeatedly claimed that Cannon Law makes it difficult if not impossible to hold pederast priests accountable, Pope Francis said nothing about changing Canon Law to help bring child abusers to justice.

Bottom line, Pope Francis is once again providing lip service while maintaining the status quo. While promising to spare no effort, he is once again offering nothing but prayers. And once again, almost no one is critical – certainly no one in a position of authority. There is no attempt to hold either the pope or the Church accountable.


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