Pope Francis should tell victims of priest sex abuse and their families, and the entire church, that he will take necessary actions to right wrongs.
THERE was a time when I would have been among the throngs chanting “Viva la papa” when Pope Francis arrives this week. However, as a survivor of priest sex abuse as a child, along with other survivors, I am experiencing very unsettling feelings about his presence in the United States. The pope symbolizes the dismal past and present response to the darkest era in the Catholic Church — that of sex crimes by clergy and the continued, systematic cover-up by bishops and popes.
Yes, Pope Francis is a breath of fresh air and brings a new tone. Taking care of our Earth is a worthy cause (“On Care for Our Common Home”), and caring for the poor and downtrodden is admirable. Yet, I find that Francis is skirting an elephant that still remains largely unaddressed in the Catholic Church.
In 2014, a Pew Research Center survey gave Pope Francis his lowest marks for not addressing priest sex abuse of children and adults. In the beginning of Pope Francis’ reign in 2013, 70 percent of U.S. Catholics said that addressing the sex-abuse scandal should be “a top priority” for the new pope, far more than said the same about standing up for families and traditional moral values, spreading the Catholic faith or other issues.
To date, Pope Francis hasn’t exposed one cleric who has committed or is concealing sex crimes. Nor has he ordered any of the world’s 5,100 bishops to do so.
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Francis is a powerful leader, able to make change quickly and effectively as he did in cleaning his own house, the Vatican, from corruption and financial mishandling. It really is time to address, once and for all, a major issue that still hangs as a dark cloud above the Catholic Church. Francis could put into effect immediate actions by ousting priests and bishops who cover up sex crimes. I propose five actions to get this done.
Stop immediately the transferring of proven or admitted priest sex offenders to poor countries to avoid criminal trial and consequences. Bishops have sent priest sex offenders who have exploited, raped and molested children to countries like Paraguay, Ecuador, Columbia, Brazil, Peru and Mexico. Pope Francis must stop this now from happening again, and he can.
Francis must defrock or demote, clearly and publicly, prelates who protect predators and endanger kids. An occasional quiet resignation and vague explanation, only after a massive diocesan scandal, isn’t enough. That’s been the pattern for centuries. And it doesn’t deter cover-ups.
Francis must insist that bishops lobby for, not against, reforming secular child-safety laws, especially predator-friendly statutes of limitations that enable clerics who commit and conceal child sex crimes to stay hidden.
For the sake of public safety, Francis should order bishops to post on their websites the names of proven, admitted and credibly accused child-molesting clerics, along with their photos, whereabouts and work histories. (Under pressure, about 30 U.S. bishops have done this.)
Francis should demand that bishops turn over records about all accused child-molesting clerics to law enforcement. And he should do so with documents kept in the Vatican.
In short, I want Pope Francis to talk less and start doing, focusing on tangible, proven actions that protect kids by exposing predators and punishing enablers. Pope Francis, while he is in the United States, should tell survivors of priest sex abuse, their families and the entire Church what actions he plans to do now as the leader of the Catholic Church to right these wrongs. We deserve to know.
Not looking us in the eyes as American Catholics next week and dealing with priest abuse and the cover-ups by bishops that is still going on today remains a major failing and weakness in an otherwise strong pope.