The Church wishes to apologize – Part 2

Sexual abuse, paedophilia and the priesthood

BBC News reports Pope Francis has asked for forgiveness for the “evil” damage to children caused by sexual abusers in the clergy.

Pope Francis and his predecessor

Pope Francis and his predecessor

The Pope said the sexual abuse was “moral damage carried out by men of the Church”, and that ‘sanctions’ would be imposed. The statement, made in a meeting with a child rights group, is described as his strongest on the issue so far. The facts show the Church does not see that, evil as paedophilia is, the lack-lustre response to it is so damaging. Last month, Pope Francis strongly defended the Roman Catholic Church’s record on tackling sexual abuse by priests, following UN criticism. The Vatican had refused a request from the UN’s Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) for data on abuse, on the grounds that it only released such information if requested to do so by another country as part of legal proceedings. Surely each member country gives the UN such a mandate?


The Pope set up a committee last year to organise help for victims of clerical sexual abuse but has been accused by some Catholics of dragging his feet in acknowledging the extent of the moral and mental damage caused by paedophile priests. “The view of  this UN committee is that the best way to prevent abuses is to reveal old ones – openness instead of sweeping offences under the carpet,” Kirsten Sandberg, chairwoman of the 18-strong CRC, told the Vatican delegation. “It seems to date your procedures are not very transparent.” The Vatican was asked why it continued to describe abuse as an offence against morals rather than a crime against children. “Does the Holy See believe that paedophilia is something that can be successfully overcome?” was another question. Archbishop Silvano Tomasi said: “To prevent abuse of minors is a real, immediate concern.” On prosecution of offenders, he said priests were “not functionaries of the Vatican but citizens of their countries and fall under the jurisdiction of their own countries”. When asked if the Vatican would hand over Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, a Polish papal envoy recalled from the Dominican Republic in September amid claims of sexual abuse there, Archbishop Tomasi said he was being investigated by the Vatican’s own prosecutors. A member of the CRC asked about the Church’s practice of moving priests suspected of abuse. “It is a no-go simply to move people from one diocese to another,” said Bishop Charles Scicluna, the Vatican’s former chief prosecutor of clerical sexual abuse. He insisted it was “not the policy of the Holy See to encourage cover-ups” but added: “The Holy See gets it that there are things that need to be done differently.” While Thursday’s questions were numerous and far-ranging, some observers vented frustration at the lack of specific answers. “Holy See: ‘We get it’ in UN review on child sexual abuse Catholic Church,” wrote the children’s rights watchdog CRIN. “Do you? Why then don’t you make statistics public?” Barbara Blaine, president of a group representing US victims of abuse by priests, told BBC News that the hearing had brought “hope to victims across the globe”. But it would also stand, she said, as a “record of how the Church officials refused to answer the questions, how they claim to be open and transparent, and yet they don’t live up to that ideal”.  The Pope said he had felt compelled to “personally ask for forgiveness for the damage [some priests] have done for having sexually abused children”, the Vatican Radio website reports. In what way exactly does this give hope to victims? Does it not sound like another way of saying: ‘Go away and forget about it?’ The pope said that the number of priests who had committed abuses were “quite a few in number”, although “obviously not compared to the number of all the priests”. We will not take one step backward with regards to how we will deal with this problem, and the sanctions that must be imposed,” he said, adding: “We have to be even stronger”. Alessandra Aula of International Catholic Child Bureau, the children’s non-governmental organisation that was at the Vatican for the Pope’s address, welcomed his comments. “The Pope took an unequivocal position on sexual abuse and I think it is a message we all were waiting for,” she told BBC World TV. In an interview last month, Pope Francis questionably defended the Catholic Church, saying: “No-one else has done more [to tackle child sexual abuse]. Yet the Church is the only one to have been attacked.” In Britain, the Jimmy Savile affair suggests otherwise. It came after a UN report accused the Vatican of systematically placing the “preservation of the reputation of the Church and the alleged offender over the protection of child victims” – something the Church has strenuously denied- despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The Catholic Church has faced numerous allegations of child sex abuse by priests around the world and criticism over inadequate responses by bishops. Earlier this year Pope Francis strengthened Vatican laws on child abuse, broadening the definition of crimes against minors to include sexual abuse of children. While in office, predecessor Pope Benedict XVI apologised to victims of child sex abuse, saying he was “truly sorry” for the “sinful and criminal actions” committed by priests. Keith Porteus Wood of the UK  National Secular Society said, “Pope Francis has already missed opportunities to assert his authority to reverse the church’s damaging policies over clerical abuse and unless he responds positively and quickly to the demands of the committee, he risks history judging his whole papacy a failure. Lawyers confirm that evidence abounds of the church at all levels continuing, even following the resignation of Pope Benedict, to do everything in its power to shield abusing Catholic clerics from justice and maintain secrecy, and do the least possible for victims”.

 Pope Francis leaving the Sistine Chapel after his election

Pope Francis leaving the Sistine Chapel after his election

The Pope’s comments were the strongest he has made since a United Nations human rights committee rebuked the Vatican in February for what it termed a long-standing and systematic cover-up by the hierarchy of sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests. His words marked a shift from the damage control mode so far adopted by the Vatican. Yet Pope Francis watered down the impact of his apology by pointing out that the priests involved in the scandal are “few in number compared to the [total] number of priests in the church”. It was also noteworthy that Pope Francis’ impromptu remarks did not figure in the official text of his address to members of the leading Catholic organizations  protecting children’s rights, the International Catholic Child Bureau, gathered at the Vatican. A week ago the head of Italy’s Catholic Bishops Conference, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, defended Vatican policy of not requiring clergy to report child sex abuse in Italy to law enforcement authorities. “The Vatican requires national laws to be respected, but we know that there is no such duty [to report abuse] under Italian law,” he told reporters. Seemingly not under Church law either. The reality is that the Vatican, because of it’s status as a nation, since the Lateran Treaty with Mussolini in 1929, has been a hiding place for criminal activity, including paedophile priests.

Some Catholic Church abuse scandals

Germany – A priest, named only as Andreas L, admitted in 2012 to 280 counts of sexual abuse involving three boys over a decade United States – News about abuses in the 1990s by two Boston priests, Paul Shanley and John Geoghan, caused public outrage Belgium – The bishop of Bruges, Roger Vangheluwe, resigned in April 2010 after admitting that he had sexually abused a boy for years Italy – The Catholic Church in Italy admitted in 2010 that about 100 cases of paedophile priests had been reported over 10 years Ireland – A report in 2009 found that sexual and psychological abuse was “endemic” in Catholic-run industrial schools and orphanages for most of the 20th century

 With thanks to : David Willey

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