It’s time, Pope Francis, to stand up for survivors, take their stories to heart and take the right action.
In scripture we find the lines, “If someone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” Survivors of clerical sex abuse are tired of turning the other cheek — tired of lies and promises, especially by popes, who through the ages have formed commission after commission, held conference after conference, issued report after report, and made promise after promise.
Church leadership has repeatedly sought forgiveness for what Pope Francis recently described as the “irreparable damage” caused by priests. In the midst of Francis’ tears and apologies, the systemic evil of clergy sex abuse remains alive and largely undercover within the ranks of the Catholic Church.
Pope Francis is no different from popes who came before him. When it comes to his brother priests, Francis protects them at the cost of heaping pain and shame upon victims as was the case last week when he visited Chile. Francis did not receive a completely warm welcome there. Nor did he deserve one.
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In 2015, Pope Francis appointed Chilean Bishop Juan Barros to head the diocese of Osorno in southern Chile. The pope knew that Barros had been accused of covering up the crimes of Father Fernando Karadima, a former Santiago priest accused of raping and molesting children.
“There is not one single piece of proof against him (Barros). It is all slander. Is that clear?” the Pope said.
The Vatican committee that found Karadima guilty in 2011 of committing sexual abuse against minors relied upon testimony from the same children, now adults, who also implicated Barros.
The act of elevating one priest, credibly accused of covering up for another priest who commits crimes of sexual violence, or colluding with them in any way, is worthy of dismissal — not protection and advancement. Pope Francis has turned a deaf ear to survivors, actions that can send many back into darkness for fear that they too will not be believed and are guilty of slander.
Survivors of sexual violation and trauma rarely, if ever, lie about their abuse. Victims consistently tell the truth. Pope Francis was wrong to challenge the voices raised in protest against the anointing of Barros. The pope was wrong, and he knows better than to effectively tell a survivor he or she is lying and not to be believed. He knows better than to tell a sexual-abuse survivor that he is guilty of calumny.
The greatest sin in this story is disregarding the truth of Father Karadima — that as a pedophile he was passed on from parish to parish just like the priest who raped me when I was 7-years-old.
Pope Francis’ appointment of Barros hearkens me back to my childhood and Catholic school. There I was taught that what really makes a sin, a great big mortal sin, is to know it’s wrong and do it anyway.
In the 2015 film on Boston’s clergy-abuse scandal, “Spotlight,” actor Mark Ruffalo, who plays Boston Globe journalist Mike Rezendes, put it this way, “It’s time! They knew, and they let it happen! To kids! OK? It could have been you, it could have been me, it could have been any of us. We gotta nail these scumbags! We gotta show people that nobody can get away with this; Not a priest, or a cardinal or a freaking pope!”
It’s time. No, it’s past time. Enough rhetoric. Enough blaming. Enough apologies. None of this posturing keeps children and others from being harmed, and holds abusers accountable. It’s time, Pope Francis, to stand up for survivors, take their stories to heart and take the right action.