Pope Francis recently begged the countless victims of clerical abuse to forgive him for the “evil” committed by Catholic clergy.
It was the first time any pope has personally taken responsibility for the worldwide rape and molestation of children perpetrated for decades by priests. It was the first time any pope asked pardon for the sex crimes of revered clerics — and the bishops who looked the other way.
But is it enough for this pope to go beyond the apologies and denunciations of his predecessors in addressing the stunning scope of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church? Do the many young victims, who grew up wounded because a trusted priest molested them, feel Pope Francis has their back?
No, says Toledo native Barbara Blaine, a victim of clerical abuse as a child. More than 25 years ago, she founded what is now a nationwide support and advocacy group for victims called Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP).
In a phone call from Chicago, where she lives and works, Ms. Blaine said she wasn’t moved by the Lenten penitential plea from Rome. “By all means we forgive, but forgiveness will not protect children,” she said.
“Protecting children requires action, and Pope Francis has not taken any action to protect kids. He’s only made statements and called for a commission to study the issue,” Ms. Blaine said.
“Setting up a commission is almost deceitful, because it gives the impression that if he [the Pope] had more information, he would do the right thing,” she added. “But in fact, he has all the information he needs to do the right thing. He just has to act.”
The kind of action that’s necessary, said the 57-year-old lawyer and former social worker, is for the Pope immediately to remove all predators in practicing ministry. “Next, he needs to punish the bishops who cover up for the predators and transfer them around the diocese. Then he needs to reward and honor the whistle-blowers” who sound alarms about abusive clergy, she said.
The Pope has taken action to streamline Vatican governance and to address the needs of the poor, Ms. Blaine added, but aggressively targeting the sex abuse scandal in the church has not been a priority. Forgive her if she’s cynical about the Pope’s newfound sensitivity and public atonement.
She ticked off a series of recent events to support her skepticism. She started with the Vatican’s terse response to a United Nations report that was sharply critical of the church’s record on abuse. The Holy See simply acknowledged that it “took note of the report” and would consider it.
Catholic bishops in Italy are defensive about following Vatican guidelines that remove any legal obligation for them to report allegations of clerical sexual abuse to police, Ms. Blaine said. Vatican policy requires national laws to be respected on abuse cases. But there is no sex-abuse law in Italy, so Italian bishops can report abuse by priests at their own discretion.
The former papal nuncio in the Dominican Republic recently fled to the Vatican to escape accusations of pedophilia, Ms. Blaine said. The Vatican refused extradition requests from the Dominican Republic — based on diplomatic immunity — for Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, the highest-ranking Vatican official to be investigated for sex abuse. He is wanted for questioning in his native Poland on similar charges.
Ms. Blaine said Pope Francis hasn’t taken any action to remove Kansas City Bishop Robert Finn, convicted for not immediately reporting a priest who was suspected of child abuse. The Rev. Shawn Ratigan, caught with a laptop containing hundreds of pornographic photos of underage girls, is serving 50 years in prison.
Bishop Finn, who chose to protect the priest rather than turn him in, is still bishop. “He wouldn’t pass a background check required by most dioceses in the U.S. to work with children,” Ms. Blaine said. Yet he remains in charge and undisciplined by the Pope.
To forgive human failings is divine, but is also meaningless if amends aren’t made.
Marilou Johanek is a columnist for The Blade.
Contact Blade columnist Marilou Johanek at: firstname.lastname@example.org