Critics Say Pope’s Comments Are Both ‘Bold’ and ‘Too Little, Too Late’

In his response to a Pennsylvania grand jury report detailing allegations of sexual abuse of more than 1,000 children by Roman Catholic clergy, Pope Francis condemned the abuse as a crime and called the church to solidarity with its victims.

“With shame and repentance, we acknowledge as an ecclesial community that we were not where we should have been, that we did not act in a timely manner, realizing the magnitude and the gravity of the damage done to so many lives,” Francis wrote in a letter published Monday (Aug. 20).

“We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them.”

The Rev. James Martin. Photo courtesy

It was a statement some following the Catholic Church’s clergy sexual abuse crisis called “the boldest we have heard from the Vatican” and others, “too little, too late.”

What makes the letter different from other statements by Francis and previous popes is that it addresses the Pennsylvania grand jury report specifically and not just sex abuse in general, said the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and editor at large of America magazine. The report found that Catholic priests had abused more than 1,000 children over 70 years and that church officials had shielded those abusers, often by transferring them to other parishes.

“The question is what specific actions will be taken, other than the letter to address the growing crisis,” Martin said.

In the three-page letter addressed to the “people of God,” Francis called all members of the church to pray and fast, writing, “This can awaken our conscience and arouse our solidarity and commitment to a culture of care that says ‘never again’ to every form of abuse.”

As important, the pope denounced clericalism, or elevating clergy above other members of the church, saying, “to say ‘no’ to abuse is to say an emphatic ‘no’ to all forms of clericalism.”

For Natalia Imperatori-Lee, associate professor of religious studies at Manhattan College, that marked a “major shift” for the pope: “centering the pain of the victims and pointing to clericalism as a root cause.”

Natalia Imperatori-Lee. Photo courtesy
Manhattan College

“He talks about the sex abuse crisis as an abuse of power and a failure of church culture, not individual failures of chastity which for so long has dominated the way the crisis is discussed in the US, with our longing to point out that there are still ‘good priests’ and ‘good bishops,’” Imperatori-Lee said in an email to Religion News Service.

Thomas Groome, the director of the Church in the 21st Century Center at Boston College, praised the pope’s letter for its boldness in calling the abuse a crime — a departure from previous statements — and noting the failure of church leadership to address it.

“Now Francis has clearly cranked it up to a new level and that is the bishops themselves clearly must be investigated,” Groome said.

But the letter falls short of creating structures or naming actions to ensure accountability for clergy and safety for children and other vulnerable people, he said.

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Source: Religion News Service