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Pope admits church realized sex abuse problem ‘a bit late’

Pope Francis meets members of a children's choir from Mexico during his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on Sept. 20, 2017. The pontiff prayed for the victims of the 7.1-magnitude quake that hit Mexico on Tuesday, leaving several hundred dead, including children trapped under a collapsed school in Mexico City. (L'osservatore Romano/Pool Photo via AP)

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis on Thursday acknowledged the Catholic Church was “a bit late” in realizing the damage done by priests who rape and molest children, and said that the decades-long practice of moving pedophiles around rather than sanctioning them was to blame.

Francis met Thursday for the first time with his sex abuse advisory commission, a group of outside experts named in 2014 to advise him and the Catholic Church on best practices to keep pedophiles out of the priesthood and protect children.

In his prepared remarks, Francis promised to respond with the “firmest measures possible” against sex abusers. He said bishops and religious superiors bore “primary responsibility” for keeping their flocks safe from abusive priests and would be held accountable if they are negligent.

But Francis also spoke off-the-cuff, admitting that the church’s response to the scandal was slow. Indeed, the Vatican for decades turned a blind eye to the problem and local bishops, rather than defrocking abusers, instead moved them from parish to parish, allowing them to abuse anew.

Part of the problem was that under the papacy of St. John Paul II, the Vatican was reluctant to defrock young priests, even if they were abusers.

“The consciousness of the church arrived a bit late, and when the consciousness arrives late, the means to resolve the problem arrive late,” Francis said. “Perhaps the old practice of moving people around, and not confronting the problem, kept consciences asleep.”

Francis also addressed the way the Vatican was handling appeals of canonical sentences, saying he wanted to add more diocesan bishops to an appeals commission that is currently dominated by canon lawyers. He said lawyers “tend to want to lower sentences” and that he wanted the influence of diocesan bishops with experience of the problem in the field to balance it out.

“I decided to balance out this commission and also say that if abuse of a minor is proven, it’s sufficient and there’s no need for recourse. If there is proof, period. It’s definitive. Why? Not because of revulsion, but simply because the person who did this, man or woman, is sick. It’s a sickness.”

In its three years, the sex abuse commission has held educational workshops in dioceses around the world, but has faced such stiff resistance to some of its proposals at the Vatican that its most prominent member, Irish abuse survivor Marie Collins, resigned in frustration in March.

The commission’s statutes and membership are up for review, and it remains to be seen if survivors of abuse will be included in the new membership roster.

Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston and head of the commission, told the pope that the commission had “benefited greatly” from listening to survivors, but made no mention of whether any were under consideration for membership.

On the membership front, he said only that the commission was seeking “representatives from churches in different parts of the world.” Currently, priests, nuns and experts fill the ranks, including noted sociologists and psychologists in the field of abuse and child protection.

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Nicole Winfield

12 Comments

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  • Well Francis, your comment is too late too! Children are still not protected, people are still not held accountable, the Church is still hiding and evading, lying and defying their own faith. So frankly, you can cram your comment and false concern.

  • realized it “a bit late”? … the obstruction of justice in these cases is testament that they realized it was a problem long ago

    it was the realization that this obstruction of justice was costing them millions that is the catalyst for this change not any wakening of conscience

  • You know what left me open-mouthed in astonishment Ben? That the so-called pope admitted that the Roman Catholic had shuffled these soul-destroying monsters around to molest children again and again!! It would be an understatement to say that I am BEYOND disgusted; it’s positively gag–inducing! UGH!! ???.

  • I agree with you 1000%. This is an ancient problem, and the response has always been the same. If you ever have the desire, read a book called “fallen Order” by Karen Liebreich. The exact same pattern of abuse, coverup, shuffle, abuse again was going on in a major scandal 400– FOUR HUNDRED– years ago.

    It is one of the things that gets me so angry. They attack gay people as being somehow less than human– you can google Cardinal George of Chicago that subject– and yet do this thing for hundreds of years. I am certain that the scandal goes much further than the abusive priests and the bishops who covered it all up. I’m certain that a lot more people, not directly connected with the coverups, nonetheless knew about it, and chose to ignore it as well.

    Disgusting doesn’t begin to cover it.

  • Well admitting something they got caught on in the last few decades isn’t helping their case. Bur the fact is the pedophilia has been going on for years if not centuries. And yes the Pope should know the bible states those that rape deserve the death penalty not moved to other unsuspecting countries. And yet the pope dares call himself a christian. Yes the pope is king of Babylon

    Matthew 18:6
    But whosoever shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him, that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.

    Mark 9:42
    And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones, that believe in me, it were better for him rather, that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were cast into the sea.

    Luke 17:2
    It is better for him that a great millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were cast into the sea, then that he should offend one of these little ones.

    Revelation 18:21
    Then a mighty Angel took up a stone, like a great millstone, and cast it into the sea, saying, With such violence shall that great city Babylon be cast and shall be found no more.

  • Who asked you to worship satan?

    This is what God says about pedophiles and the king of Babylon the pope

    Matthew 18:6
    But whosoever shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him, that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.

    Mark 9:42
    And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones, that believe in me, it were better for him rather, that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were cast into the sea.

    Luke 17:2
    It is better for him that a great millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were cast into the sea, then that he should offend one of these little ones.

    Revelation 18:21
    Then a mighty Angel took up a stone, like a great millstone, and cast it into the sea, saying, With such violence shall that great city Babylon be cast and shall be found no more.

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