Pope Francis spoke before the Roman Curia on Friday in one of the traditional speeches leading up to Christmas. The Roman Curia is essentially the administrative organization that keeps the Vatican running under the direction of the pope.
In his speech, Francis stated some pretty strong opposition to priests in the church who commit abuse against children. But before we give him too much credit, we should look closer at what Francis said.
Francis told the Roman Curia, “To those who abuse minors I would say this: convert and hand yourself over to human justice, and prepare for divine justice.”
Continuing his discourse on these abusive priests, Francis said, “Often behind their boundless amiability, impeccable activity and angelic faces, they shamelessly conceal a vicious wolf ready to devour innocent souls. Let it be clear that before these abominations the Church will spare no effort to do all that is necessary to bring to justice whosoever has committed such crimes. The church will never seek to hush up or not take seriously any case.”
Now, these are certainly some of the strongest words Francis has used against abusive priests so far. Most of his remarks on the church's sex abuse scandal have been moronically inappropriate and offensive.
That being said, many people are offended at this latest speech, too.
The problem that many abuse survivors and survivor advocates had with the pope's speech is that he focused on the abusers. He focused on the priests who actually committed the abuse. But a HUGE part of the problem is that the bishops, cardinals, and other leaders of the church have been systematically protecting these priests whenever they are accused of abuse.
Anne Barrett Doyle is the co-director of Bishop Accountability, which documents clerical abuse. She called Francis’s demand for abusers to turn themselves in “silly." She added that, "To command psychologically sick people to do the right thing? It’s also deceptive.”
“This speech represents a regression to the defense we heard from John Paul II, that the problem was with the perpetrators. We now know the more fundamental problem is with the complicit and deceptive hierarchy,” Doyle continued.
I wrote about a meeting in November of the bishops of the United States where two measures were to be voted on to allow the church to respond to abuse accusations more appropriately.
The Vatican canceled the vote.
But there is a meeting in February of the global community of Catholic bishops. At that February meeting, Pope Francis has now stated that the church will make progress on the problem of sexual abuse among the clergy.
He said, “An effort will be made to make past mistakes opportunities for eliminating this scourge.”
Victims, and advocates for said victims, have been skeptical of Francis's remarks.
David Clohessy, who formerly worked as the director of SNAP, the Survivor's Network of those Abused by Priests, wrote to reporters that, "While refusing to reveal the name of one cleric who committed or concealed child sex crimes, Francis gives yet another promise about ending cover ups. Just this week, in one US state alone, Illinois, we learned there are 500 accused priests whose identities are being protected by bishops. Across the globe, there must be tens of thousands . . . If he’s serious, Francis could show it by suspending all Illinois bishops until they ‘come clean’ or the attorney general’s investigation clears them of wrongdoing. The pope could end this reckless secrecy but just continues pontificating.”
I wrote about the story in Illinois last week, you can read about that here.
Even here, in a story where Pope Francis is finally starting to condemn some of the behavior of the church's priests, he just cannot fully condemn all the immoral behavior his clergy has engaged in.
I share the skepticism of the victims and the advocates for victims. The church has had nearly 2,000 years to figure out how to not be inhuman monsters. Instead, they have systematically protected their own while victimizing an unfathomable number of innocent victims.
In other words: Francis, we will believe it when we see it.