Activists Urge Pope Francis to Address Sex Abuse By Clergy in the Catholic Church During U.S. Visit


John Salveson didn’t give up his obsession with the Catholic Church easily. There were polite letters in the early 1980s, asking that the priest who molested him when he was a teenager be removed.

His bishop wrote back, but the priest remained, transferring parishes through the late ’80s, according to a grand jury report. “Sincerely yours in Christ,” the bishop closed his letters.

Later, Salveson led a group that advocated for church reform. But by the mid-2000s, he had grown discouraged and shifted his focus to pushing for stronger laws and enforcement.

Prompted by Pope Francis’s trip to Philadelphia this fall, Salveson has renewed his activism toward the church, calling for the pontiff and other participants in a global Catholic meeting on family issues to discuss child sex abuse by clergy members and wear black ribbons to represent “the darkness that infects the souls of survivors,” he said.

The official itinerary for Francis’s U.S. trip includes no mention of the topic, although some experts think the pontiff will address it in an impromptu way, as Pope Benedict did during his last trip to the United States, in 2008.

The visit is reason for celebration among those who consider Francis the first pope to begin restoring the Catholic Church’s moral authority after sex abuse scandals, which led many American Catholics to fall away from their faith. But it is painful for many others who think Francis and the church have not done enough to reach out to victims or punish those who oversaw abusers.

Advocates point out that the pope has held no bishop explicitly accountable — allowing a few to instead quietly resign. And church officials continue to spend millions fighting litigation.

Most sex abuse survivors have never received an apology from their church leaders, advocates say. They are unable to seek relief in criminal or civil courts because of statutes of limitation and are left with deep scars that can make it challenging to hold a job or have an intimate relationship. The vast majority of survivors have left the Catholic Church, experts say, and to see it celebrated regularly in the media can be painful.

Arthur Baselice, a retired Philadelphia police detective whose son died of a drug overdose a decade ago after years of clergy abuse, is angry about the pope’s efforts for survivors.

“He’s creating a diversion. All he does is talk. . . . You think this guy ever worked a day in his life? How could he have empathy for people like us?” Baselice said. Then he began to cry.

Others think Francis’s actions demonstrate his intent to make lasting changes.

“I think he’s a rock star,” said Andy Druding, 54, a survivor from Philadelphia who said he is unable to work because of post-traumatic stress and depression. “He really seems to be someone who genuinely seems to want to get to the bottom of this and stop it.”

Victims of sex abuse who praise Francis note that the pontiff has taken concrete steps, including embracing six survivors during a Mass in 2013.

“I beg your forgiveness, too, 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,” he said. “This led to even greater suffering on the part of those who were abused, and it endangered other minors who were at risk.”

Later that year, Francis created a high-level commission charged with making recommendations on how to prevent abuse, help victims and punish church officials responsible.

Another highly praised move came in June when Francis followed the commission’s recommendation to create a Vatican tribunal that eventually will be able to try and penalize bishops who cover up abuse. A system was in place to punish abusers, but until now, there has been no process for the bishops who oversaw them.

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SOURCE: The Washington Post, Michelle Boorstein

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