Pope Francis’ Spotty Record on Sexual Abuse

For a while, there was hope.

Catholics and concerned non-believers alike wondered if perhaps this Pope, who showed signs of humility that were missing in his predecessor and who spoke about refreshing and renewing the institution, would take decisive action on the international epidemic of Catholic officials shielding child-abuser priests. After all, this was no Cardinal Dolan, who paid abusers to voluntarily leave their positions, nor a Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga who said he would rather go to jail himself than allow the authorities to investigate accused priests.

Former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio never went quite that far. But, as Nick Miroff of the Washington Post reports, the new pontiff’s record on sexual abuse leaves much to be desired.

Abuse victims in Buenos Aires complain that, while acting as their cardinal, the new pope refused to meet with victims, offer financial restitution to suffering families, or even extend personal apologies to abused children under his care. They describe a sluggish, foot-dragging response to accusations of child-molesting, and a pastoral leader who preferred to keep silent about the problem rather than fiercely denouncing the evil of priestly sexual abuse.

Bergoglio — now Pope Francis — has declined to meet with the victim of the priest’s crimes or the victims of other predations by clergy under his leadership. He did not offer personal apologies or financial restitution, even in cases in which the crimes were denounced by other members of the church and the offending priests were sent to jail.

It’s not that he’s any different from the other Catholic leaders in this; he’s not. That’s the tragedy of this story. He’s as myopic and morally blinkered as anyone else in the Catholic hierarchy.

Since the problem of molester priests is only beginning to come to light in South American Catholicism, he could have done a great deal of good by confronting it directly, setting the stage for leadership and moral clarity in those under his care. Instead, he has upheld the traditional approach: burying his head in the sand and showing reluctance to address a moral issue that should be profoundly unambiguous.

Some suspect the former cardinal’s denial goes even deeper, based on the sensational case of Father Julio Cesar Grassi, a popular Buenos Aires priest and founder of a charitable foundation for children, Felices los Niños (“Happy Children”). Grassi was convicted in 2009 of having molested three pre-teen boys, though he remains free (pending appeal) and continues to live close to the Felices los Niños dormitories. Advocates for abused children are troubled by the close relationship Grassi shared with Bergoglio in his glory days and wonder how much Bergoglio knew and chose to ignore.

One thing is certain: once Grassi’s accusers came forward, Bergoglio did little to condemn the disgraced priest. Even after his conviction, Grassi has not been removed from the priesthood. In fact, Bergoglio led a team of church officials in producing a report declaring — contrary to the evidence — that the accusations leveled against Grassi had been false.

The Grassi affair remains an isolated case, and there is no evidence beyond the close friendship between the two men to suggest that Bergoglio knew about the attacks before the victims came forward. However, his response to the case — combined with Bergoglio’s policy of quietly ignoring abuse victims — does not bode well for the Catholic Church’s future response to the crisis of child-molesting priests.  If past precedent is any indication of this new pope’s future behaviour, we can expect to see continuing denial and silence on the widespread sexual abuse within the Catholic priesthood.

About Sara Lin Wilde

Sara Lin Wilde is a recovering Catholic (and cat-holic, for that matter - all typographical errors are the responsibility of her feline friends). She lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, where she is working on writing a novel that she really, really hopes can actually get published.

  • C Peterson

    Seriously, you had to be pretty delusional if you thought there was any hope for improvement with the selection of a new pope. Look at the people in the room who were making the selection. A bunch of old regressives, hand picked for years by other regressives. Men whose moral standards have deviated so far from those of most of the world that they are clueless. Just exactly what kind of leader do you think men like that will vote for? Certainly not a reformer- to the extent that there even are any potential reformers amongst the cardinals.

    There are no surprises here.

    • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

      A history of complicit silence is an improvement over active abetting, just a very marginal one. And even that’s a bit of a cheap shot; he did eventually make a policy such cases were to be reported promptly to the police.

      But expecting miracles from the Catholic Church would indeed be delusional.

  • José Reyes

    Cardinal Dolan? Is that seriously his name?

  • Christian von Kietzell

    Don’t tell me you’re surprised. I’ve yet to see one catholic official higher up in the hierarchy — meaning one that’s not completely powerless regarding the direction of that organisation — that shows any kind of decency and courage when it comes to these abuse cases.

  • Librepensadora

    Why are we not surprised. Maybe we’ll even have a heart attack and die from not-surprise.

    • Librepensadora

      oooooooooops!! There should have been a question mark after “surprised.”

  • Rain

    This pope named himself after the 12th century “Saint” Francis that was given “stigmata” by a “seraph”, a six winged angel on a cross. If you believe that one then I have a bridge I would like to sell very cheap. I can believe the stigmata and the angel, but the six wings kinda gives it away. He would have sold me if he would have said four wings.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    Excellent article Sara, but you might have been too lenient with the title.

    “Spotty Record”? Where are the spots? It looks 100% wall-to-wall solid black without any empty spots. Did you maybe forget to mention that somewhere Bergoglio once said, “Oh fooey, not again.” or something that might, with the most charitable of interpretations, lead one to think that he at least found the child rapes and beatings a teeny weeny bit objectionable?

  • Yoyo

    It’s no surprise that Catholics act the way they do. They take their morals from the bible.

    Therefore, homosexuality is a sin and needs to be punished. But the bible doesn’t say that fucking little kiddies is wrong so the church hierarchy fails to understand that it’s bad.

    More evidence that religion less moral than secularism.

    • Claude

      Um, Jesus reportedly said that a person who would lead children astray “who have faith in me” would be better off drowning in the sea with a millstone around their neck.

      So I don’t think that’s it.

      • AntonioPeYangIII

        Matthew 18:6

        “If anyone causes one of these little ones–those who believe in me–to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”

        • CultOfReason

          The implication here being that these children are only worth saving if they “believe in me”?

          • AntonioPeYangIII

            Looks like it. For a supposedly all-powerful, “perfect” being, he’s quite the insecure control freak isn’t he?

  • The White Rabbit

    Sell the Vatican – Feed the World

  • http://twitter.com/Opinionatedcath Opinionated Catholic

    I m not going to get into what maybe the now Pope Francis did or did not do in South America because I have little info to make a judgment at this point.

    However I will say as to what Cardinal Dolan did that was referenced above I thought was not improper but the right thing to do. Even many of the most severe critics of the way the Church has handled things are not on board with that accusation

    • 3lemenope

      Please, tell us why it was not improper.

    • Pattrsn

      “Francis did or did not do in South America because I have little info to make a judgment at this point”

      In other words you don’t have the official spin yet.

    • pagansister

      How was it NOT improper to pay priests to leave the priesthood? They should have “left” right into a jail cell. Yes, they were no longer (supposedly) able to molest the children in another parish, but how about other children in general? He just turned loose child molesters to prey on other children!

    • pagansister

      How was it NOT improper to pay priests to leave the priesthood? They should have “left” right into a jail cell. Yes, they were no longer (supposedly) able to molest the children in another parish, but how about other children in general? He just turned loose child molesters to prey on other children!

    • http://twitter.com/maxbingman1 Max Bingman

      There’s an apologist in every thread. Up is down and down is up. They make the Catholic Church sound like Bizarro’s World.

  • Carmelita Spats

    I’m not surprised. The RCC will excommunicate you if you desecrate the Eucharist, the magic cookie they believe to be the body of a 2,000-year-old virgin carpenter. If you sexually torture the body of a REAL PERSON, a ten-year-old child, you are NOT excommunicated. They move you to another parish. I would rather a priest masturbate on the Eucharist than harm a single hair on a child. Note to Catholics: Cookie-Jeebus can take the abuse whereas a child CANNOT.

  • Keulan

    This really doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. Once again I am reminded of this song.

  • pagansister

    He is of the same generation/age as most of the bishops and cardinals who have been faced with this situation, so his attitude and response is/was the same as all the others in his realm. So not right, but not a surprise. I would be very surprised if he is any more effective in his handling of the crisis than the other 2 guys.

  • CDP

    Catholics, non-Catholics and non-believers who are concerned about the well being of children and victims of abuse should want to know about this Pope or any leader in any other area where abuse has been pandemic. Anti-religious and anti-Catholic bigots, on the other hand, will virtually ignore almost any other arena in which abuse happens and will gladly exploit children and abuse victims in order to merely score points and advance agendas. The scope of focus is usually the give away.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

    once again i have to ask how any moral person could be associated with this organization.


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