Although Pope Francis is winning widespread praise today for his strong statement against clergy abuse and request for "forgiveness," some victims' advocates and watchdog groups greeted the pontiff's remarks with caution. On Monday, a clergy abuse whistleblower group called Bishop Accountability said Pope Francis's strong criticism of the clergy who helped to cover up the scandal was "overdue." The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests — a well-known victims' advocacy group that is often critical of the Vatican — said in a statement emailed to The Wire that "no child on earth is safer today because of this meeting." Many groups are calling on the Pope to enact reforms, not ask for forgiveness.
SNAP president Barbara Blaine demanded that "Francis must take decisive action right now" to address the scandal more directly. She also applauded the six victims who met with Francis today "for having the strength to attend this meeting."
The Pope says the church should "make reparations" to victims. That's secondary. Stopping abuse and protecting children comes first. And sadly, no child on earth is safer today because of this meeting.
With or without church officials, abuse victims can heal themselves. But only with church officials' help can children protect themselves from child molesting clerics. That's where the Pope must focus. And that's where he's refusing to act.
On Monday, the Pope asked for "forgiveness" for the sex abuse scandal, something he has done at least one other time this year. But his remarks today were the strongest yet from the Pope on the clergy abuse scandal. As a reminder, the scandal in question has two major parts to it: the abuse of children at the hands of clergy in the church, and a cover-up of that abuse by Catholic leaders. His remarks on Monday took aim at the latter part, which the Church is usually more reluctant to address. Via the Guardian, here are his remarks upon meeting with the group of six victims, his first such meeting during his papacy:
I beg your forgiveness for the sins of omission on the part of church leaders who did not respond adequately to reports of abuse made by family members, as well as by abuse victims themselves. This led to even greater suffering on the part of those who were abused and it endangered other minors who were at risk."
The Pope also condemned the abuse itself as "something more than despicable actions," comparing it to a "sacrilegious cult." Bishop Accountability's Co-Director Anne Barrett Doyle added that Francis's meeting with abuse victims on Monday was a "positive and necessary step," and praised Francis for "a significant and historic promise to discipline bishops who fail to respond adequately to child sexual abuse."
Although Francis has done a lot to win hearts and minds in the reputation battle for the Vatican, the religious institution has yet to address past abuse — and its current policies for handling future reports of child abuse — adequately for many. That includes a U.N. committee investigating the Vatican to determine whether it broke an international torture treaty. As part of that investigation, the Catholic Church revealed that it has defrocked 848 priests over the past decade following accusations of child abuse. In February, the U.N. panel criticized the Vatican for "not [acknowledging] the extent of the crimes committed."