Pope Francis Walks Back 30 Years

Given the frequent suggestions that his upcoming summit on child abuse might actually yield something concrete, it was inevitable that Pope Francis would assure his flock that nothing so untoward would happen. He just did it – “Pope aims to ‘deflate’ expectations for abuse summit, says no to married priests.” I’ve linked to coverage by Inés San Martín, #2 in CRUX.

The New History of the Summit

The first step taken by Pope Francis was to rewrite history. Ms. San Martin reports:

“Francis said the initiative was born in the C9, a group of cardinals that advise him on reform of the government of the Church. Three of those cardinals were removed late last year, two of them over allegations of either covering up abuse or of having sexually abused minors.”

Pope Francis said the decision to hold the summit came from his top advisors, the C9. This is the first time we have heard this. Since the C9 never issued a public statement, there is no way to confirm this claim. But their timing would have been exquisite, since Pope Francis announced the summit just before the conference of U.S. bishops was going to vote on some procedures for handling child abuse cases. Although this happened just a few months ago, people seem to have forgotten that Pope Francis ordered the bishops not to vote, and said he would soon hold an abuse summit to ensure that such matters are handled uniformly worldwide. That is why people had the false expectation that Pope Francis’ summit might have concrete, meaningful results.

(Pope Francis also demanded that American bishops attend a week-long prayer session with his personal pastor. This was supposed to be on child abuse, though it turned out not to be. It was a time out - punishment for unruly children.)

About the C9

Ms. San Martin notes that 3 of the 9 leading cardinals were removed from office for infractions concerning child abuse. She failed to mention that they were previously indicted and/or convicted of crimes. That is, over 30% of the top officials of the Catholic Church were guilty of some form of child abuse. That is an incredible figure. It makes Donald Trump’s advisors look righteous.

These statistics reflect the kinds of behavior that the Church rewards. Official estimates are that about 7% of priests are child abusers. But at the very top of the Church, the rate of abuse is more than four times as large. These are men who were promoted by the sainted John Paul II, who had a nasty habit of rewarding and protecting child abusers.

The Summit’s Agenda

According to Pope Francis, the primary purpose of the summit is to “offer a ‘catechesis’ to bishops’ conferences that would make the ‘drama of children who’ve been abused’ comprehensible.” Apparently Pope Francis feels that even after decades of abuse scandals, bishops still don’t understand “the drama of children who’ve been abused.” Bishops have figured out the Trinity and other great mysteries, but don’t understand the mystery of raping boys.

This seems bizarre. Certainly, when the American bishops were about to vote on procedures for handling abuse, they thought they understood the problem. They even thought they had some solutions. Pope Francis stopped them from voting in order to explain ‘the drama’ of abused children. It is not apparent how much dramatic understanding of rape is necessary to address the crime. Even if Pope Francis gives the bishops a dramatic demonstration, how will this help them solve the problem of priestly pederasts?  

The secondary and tertiary purposes of the summit seem more practical: “The second scope of the meeting, Francis said, is to teach bishops how to respond when facing an allegation of abuse by a member of the clergy. Thirdly, he wants the February meeting to lead to ‘protocols’ on how Church leaders should handle abuse cases.”

In part 2 of the summit Pope Francis will teach the bishops how to respond to charges of abuse. But the third part is designed to lead to ‘protocols’ on handling abuse. How can Pope Francis teach the bishops how to handle abuse without having some form of protocol? Perhaps Pope Francis will instruct the bishops to seek guidance from the Holy Spirit.

Regarding protocols, the Dallas Charter was created more than 15 years ago, and has been updated. It was about to be further reformed before Pope Francis blocked the vote. My prediction is that whatever protocols are developed as part 3 of the summit will prove to be even less effective than the Dallas Charter.

Francis’ Bottom Line

Pope Francis said “he’s perceived ‘inflated expectations’ over the February summit, saying that it’s necessary to deflate it to the three points he mentioned.” This only deflates expectations if Pope Francis’ instructions in part 2 of the summit are essentially meaningless. If Pope Francis does a good job of teaching bishops “how to respond when facing an allegation of abuse by a member of the clergy,” he will exceed expectations.

Adding Insult to Injury

After making it clear that no one should expect the summit to accomplish anything meaningful, Pope Francis suggested there really is no special problem of priestly child abuse to solve: “It’s a human problem. But a human problem everywhere.” Everybody does it! Don’t look at me!

After the first abuse crisis broke out in Louisiana about 35 years ago, Pope John Paul II denied there was a problem. Before long, there was so much evidence of abuse by priests that he could no longer deny it. Instead, he blamed it on American immorality, or later said – like Pope Francis is now doing – that it was a general societal issue, not an issue of priests in particular.

While it is true that priests do not hold a monopoly on sexually abusing boys, it is overwhelmingly clear that they are far more likely to abuse boys than any other profession. John Paul stopped denying the problem after several years, and Pope Benedict never used this excuse. When Pope Francis took office, he not only acknowledged the problem, he created a special papal commission to address it. He has now regressed nearly 30 years, back to a stage of denial.

My guess is that his new PR group is responsible for this. His prior PR men from Fox News – a journalistic cesspool – were too reality-based to attempt this. His new staff, veterans of Vatican Radio, do not let reality or integrity interfere with their pitch. Evidently, that’s why Pope Francis picked them.

Note that Ms. San Martin of CRUX did virtually nothing to call attention to the pope’s disinformation. Her colleagues in other Catholic media were little better.


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