Well, here we go again. As the new Pope begins his reign, secularists and Catholics alike have been holding out hope that dealing with the massive sex abuse scandal that has plagued the Catholic church in recent years will be one of his main focuses. The Pew Research Center even released a new report, recently, in which they find that seven in ten Catholics say that dealing with the sex abuse scandal should be a top priority for the new Pope.
The church’s reputation has been growing ever worse in recent years, after the discovery of a long history of abuse being swept under the rug, abusers protected, and victims dragged through long, drawn out court battles before getting anything coming close to justice. Now, Pope Francis has the opportunity to set a new precedent within the church of zero tolerance for abuse, and cooperation with authorities in bringing child abusers to justice. Statements made by Francis in his 2010 book “On Heaven and Earth,” in which he said that the church shouldn’t ignore allegations of sexual abuse by priests, seem to validate people’s hopes that this will be the case:
“When that happens, we must never turn a blind eye. You cannot be in a position of power and destroy the life of another person,” he says in the book, also saying that priests who are convicted of such crimes should be stripped of their priesthood.
Unfortunately, his past actions don’t quite jive with his bold words.
According to The Washington Post, Francis already has a strong history of ignoring accusations of priestly abuse, and of aiding those who are accused, while shunning victims and their families.
First, we have the case of Father Julio Cesar Grassi, who founded the “Happy Children” foundation in Argentina, which helps fund schools, orphanages and job training programs for poor and abandoned youths. His work earned him quite a bit of praise and notice from senior members in the Argentine church, including Pope Francis, then known as Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Today, though, he is a convicted child abuser, after being sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2009, for molesting a prepubescent boy.
Of course, Grassi has yet to do any actual prison time. Why is that, you might ask? Well, because of an investigative report that was commissioned by none other than Pope Francis (Bergoglio), himself. Once Grassi was found guilty, rather than recommending that he be stripped of his priesthood, as Francis now claims should be done in these cases, the then-Archbishop commissioned a lengthy report that maintained Grassi’s innocence. According to The Post:
“The report was submitted as part of the priest’s legal appeal, which is pending, and prosecutors say the document has helped Grassi avoid jail time so far. A court has granted him a provisional release that allows him to continue residing across the street from the classroom and dormitories of Happy Children.”
Next, we have the case of Father Napoleon Sasso, who was convicted in 2007 of abusing girls who worked at the soup kitchen that he was in charge of. He had been reassigned there as part of the Catholic Church’s now well-known pedophile priest protection program (as I like to call it ), after being accused of child sexual abuse elsewhere. The decision to place him there was made by the Argentine Bishops conference, which Pope Francis (Bergoglio) oversaw. Worse, when a medical priest and nun discovered the abuse that had taken place at the soup kitchen (which included 25 girls, ages 3-16,) Argentine church officials (who Bergoglio was in charge of) told them to “remain patient,” and then did nothing, according to Ernesto Moreau, the victims’ attorney. While the case was eventually picked up by criminal courts, Moreau says that the church officials who helped cover up the abuse still retain their positions within the church.
While Pope Francis seemingly had plenty of motivation to aid the abusers in these cases, he has refused to meet with victims in the years since the abuses occurred. Furthermore, he has failed to offer any kind of apology or compensation to priest abuse victims, even in cases like these, where priests were found guilty, and other church members denounced their crimes.
The fact that all of this has happened relatively recently makes the stain of Pope Francis’ history of handling abuse cases even darker, according to Anne Doyle, who is co-director of the U.S.-based Bishop Accountability group:
“We would be alarmed if the Archbishop Bergoglio had done this in the ‘60s or ‘70s. That would be sad and disturbing, but the fact that he did this just five years ago, when other bishops in other countries were meeting victims and implementing tough reporting laws, it puts him behind some of his American counterparts, that’s for sure.”
The Bishop Accountability group is now calling on Pope Francis to apologize for his and the Argentine church’s actions in the protection of Grassi and Sasso. That’s not all, though. They have also demanded that the Pope tell the Buenos Aires archdiocese to release the Grassi and Sasso case files, publicly out any other priests who are “credibly accused” of sexual abuse, and support mandatory reporting of suspected abuse to the authorities.
So, what will it be, Francis? Will you usher in a new era of the church taking a real, hard line stance in the fight against clergy abuse, or will you just give us a few more years of the same child abusing, pedophile protecting church behavior that we’ve all come to know so well? Personally, I won’t be holding my breath for the first possibility.