Pope Francis talks with journalists during his flight from Lima, Peru, to Rome on Jan. 21.
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Revelation upon revelation of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests, and cover ups by bishops, has crippled faith in the Catholic Church over the last two decades. Since the start of his tenure in 2013, Pope Francis has labored to address this great sin, this stain upon the Roman Catholic church, and restore faith in the institution.
But on on a recent trip to Chile, the Pope lost both focus and credibility. He said that he was “pained and ashamed” by the conduct of priests who sexually abused children in the country. And yet, the Pope refused to meet with victims of these crimes and even accused victims of slandering a bishop who allegedly turned a blind eye to the behavior of Chile’s most infamous abuser.
After his comments drew sharp criticism from around the globe, the Pope issued an apology. But even his apology was couched in a defense of the bishop.
The Pope, a master of symbols and of signaling change and open mindedness, sent the wrong signal last month, when he performed a benediction at the funeral of Cardinal Bernard Law, the former Boston archbishop who resigned in disgrace over clerical abuse of children in the Boston archdiocese. Over many years, and in the shadow of many broken lives, Cardinal Law enabled, covered up, obstructed, and dissembled. The Vatican defended the Pope’s decision to bless the cardinal’s soul at his funeral as a matter of protocol. But Pope Francis has often flouted tradition when it suits him.
At the start of his tenure, Pope Francis adopted a “zero tolerance” policy toward sex abuse within the Catholic Church. But little has happened. No new procedures have been instituted and an oversight commission has been inactive.
The Pope may perhaps be forgiven for loyalty to a friend, but not for his inability to grasp the enormity of this issue and insist that the church repent, do penance, and adopt “a firm purpose of amendment.”
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