Pope Francis made a clear and strong statement to the members of the International Catholic Child Bureau (BICE) today that he is personally “compelled” to deal with the “evil” that some Catholic priests have inflicted on young children. He described these unholy priest pedophiles as perpetrators of both “moral” and “personal” damage.” Further, Francis has declared that punishment in the form of sanctions will be imposed on these “men of the church” while at the same time noting that the percentage of priests who are pedophiles is small in comparison to those whose actions do not include the sexual abuse of children. No matter how small the percentage, it is a fact that the lives of many children have been negatively impacted by pedophiles within the Catholic Church.
Francis also asked for personal forgiveness from the sexual abuse victims for the damage that was done to them. This damage was inflicted on these children under the watch of the church and Francis appears to be taking personal responsibility for the, as he has put it, “evil” transgressions of these priests, a mantle of responsibility that is likely a heavy moral burden to bear.
Regarding the predatory nature of these priests whose behavior is clearly a blight on the moral image of the Catholic Church, Francis promised that rather than backing away from the issue of sexual abuse, he intends to pursue it further. He stated that the church has to take an even stronger position in dealing with the transgressions of priests because you cannot “interfere with children.” Interfere is a rather innocuous way of saying that priests (or any other entity) cannot use children for their own sexual gratification. The mix of sexual abuse by a trusted advisor with God, religion, man-made authority and the innocence of youth is a lethal cocktail, the damaging effects of which are felt long into adulthood.
The Survivor’s Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) defines itself as the “largest support group for anyone hurt by the clergy.” SNAP came out with a statement in response to Pope Francis, which advises caution in the face of his words. SNAP ‘begs” Catholics across the world to be “impressed by deeds” not the words of the Pope. They suggest that until Francis takes what they consider “decisive action” that will actually safeguard children from the evil of pedophile priests, that Catholics should remain “skeptical” and “vigilant.” This course of action would seem to be wise for parents, Catholic or not, as a consistently implemented policy when it comes to the safety of their children.
In the face of ongoing scrutiny and criticism and a long history of the molestation of children by Catholic priests, Francis has made efforts in the past to demonstrate his commitment to protecting the innocent. In December of 2013, a Vatican task force was created to deal with the issue of sexual abuse in the church and includes a “panel of experts” who are responsible for the examination of “child protection measures” that are currently in place or in need of strengthening. According to the Archbishop of Boston, Sean O’Malley the commissioned task force is to specifically address the “protection of minors” and advise Pope Francis not only on how this is best achieved but also in the “pastoral care” for previous victims of sexual abuse by priests.
Despite his acknowledgement today of the existence and severity of sexual abuse cases in the Catholic Church, Francis has both recently and vigorously defended the Vatican saying that no one has taken more efforts to “root out pedophilia” than the Church. In response to strong criticism by the United Nations in March of 2014 over sex abuse scandals and potential cover-ups, Francis stated that the Church has been the only “public institution” that has acted with both “transparency and responsibility” and insinuated that the attacks were unfair. He also suggested that the majority of incidences of sexual abuse occur in environments other than the Church such as in families or neighborhoods.
Francis’s statement about other incidences of sexual abuse is not applicable to the abuse of young children by predatory and even, “evil” priests who are in a position of power over the young in a religious setting. The Pope is not being held responsible for what happens outside of the Catholic Church. As the highest moral authority within the Vatican however, he is surely tasked with both the moral and physical responsibility of preventing sexually predatory priests from playing with the lives of children. Organizations like SNAP may be able to assist in the healing of those victimized by Catholic clergy, but if Pope Francis can effectively deal with these priests and root out the evil at the source, then, and only then will he be effective in safeguarding the innocent.
Opinion By Alana Marie Burke
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