Pope Francis’ reputation on sex abuse ‘has gone from bad to worse’

Osorno Bishop Juan Barros, left, in Iquique, Chile, on Jan. 18, 2018. Pope Francis in Lima, Peru, on Jan. 21, 2018. (Left: AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino; right: L’Osservatore Romano Vatican Media)

VATICAN CITY (RNS) — From his advocacy for migrants to opening up the Sistine Chapel to Rome’s homeless, Pope Francis has been an outspoken voice for people suffering on the margins.

But the 81-year-old pontiff’s appeals on behalf of the downtrodden are being overshadowed by the way he is dealing with victims of clerical sexual abuse.

“This is a situation which the pope has mishandled, and it’s gone from bad to worse,” Marie Collins, a former member of a pontifical commission on clerical sex abuse, who herself was abused by a priest when she was 13 years old, told Religion News Service.

The pope — who has repeatedly been accused of having a tin ear on this issue — is coming under pressure after it emerged he was handed a letter detailing abuse committed by the Rev. Fernando Karadima, a prominent Chilean priest, and how a future bishop witnessed it but did nothing.

It contradicted Francis’ comments to journalists last month that no victims had come forward with evidence of a cover-up by Bishop Juan Barros, whom the pope appointed in 2015 to lead the Diocese of Osorno. During a trip to Chile in January, Francis also upset survivors by describing the claims against Barros — many of them made by victims — as “calumny.”

Collins said she is shocked by the way Francis has dealt with the case.

Irish abuse victim Marie Collins, left, who has quit the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, looks at the commission head, Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley, during their first briefing at the Holy See press office at the Vatican on May 3, 2014. Photo by Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters

“It surprised me, as I did have a fair amount of faith in the pope, and he did seem to have an understanding of the pain of victims. I have a general feeling of mystification,” said Collins, who helped draft child protection guidelines for the church in Ireland.

In addition to appearing insensitive to victims in the Barros case, the pope has also drawn criticism for not making the prevention of sexual abuse of children high enough on his priority list. While the abuse scandal has in the past centered on cover-ups like the one in Boston highlighted by the film “Spotlight,” the challenge for the church is to help survivors and stop abuse from happening again, and the pope appears to be falling short, according to Collins.

“It wouldn’t be so shocking if he hadn’t spoken so harshly to victims, and it’s hard to understand why he spoke in that way,” she said. “He was also in Chile and could have met those survivors while he was there.”

Francis did meet victims while in Chile, just not those abused by Karadima, who was sentenced to a life of “prayer and penance” by the Vatican in 2011.

Collins said that what most baffles her about the pope’s remark that no one had come forward was that a delegation she was part of handed a letter written by a Karadima victim, Juan Carlos Cruz, to Cardinal Sean O’Malley in April 2015. At the time, O’Malley, president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors that she was part of, promised to deliver the missive personally to the pope.

Juan Carlos Cruz reads from his tablet during an interview with The Associated Press in Philadelphia on Feb. 4, 2017. Cruz says Pope Francis received a letter he wrote in 2015 detailing the sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of a priest and efforts by the Chilean church to cover it up, contradicting the pope’s recent insistence that no victims had come forward. (AP Photo/Yvonne Lee; caption amended by RNS)

Returning to Rome after his South American trip, the pope did an about-face and announced he was sending Archbishop Charles Scicluna to “listen” to those with information about the Barros case.

The Maltese archbishop is the Vatican’s former chief prosecutor for sex abuse cases. He investigated the abusive behavior by the Mexican priest Marcial Maciel, the founder of the Legionaries of Christ movement who was protected by powerful figures inside the Vatican.

On Feb. 17, Scicluna is due in New York, where he will meet with Cruz and hear his testimony. 

While the Vatican is not officially commenting on the latest developments in the Barros case, sources point to Scicluna’s appointment as a sign the pope is taking it seriously.

Nevertheless, Francis is still playing catch-up. While investigations go on in Chile, a child protection commission set up by the pope to advise on safeguarding has been left waiting for new members.

Collins resigned from that body last year in frustration at the blocking of reform by the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation — which takes a lead role on sex abuse cases. One of the major challenges she and other commission members identified was the need to hold bishops accountable for mishandling cases.

“The other shocking thing is the commission has been left adrift, and that new members have not been appointed,” Collins said. “The next meeting is in April and the work should go on between meetings but not without members. Things can’t be just left sitting there.”

Collins says a major test will be the pope’s visit later this year to Ireland, a country where the wounds are still raw from a sexual abuse scandal.

“Ireland is a country that has been left decimated by the abuse issue — so many have walked away. We now have an aging clergy and few vocations. It wasn’t so much the fact abuse took place that caused this but the appalling way it was handled,” Collins said.

“In Ireland there had been renewed hope with Francis, but some of those hopes have been dashed recently.”

(Christopher Lamb is The Tablet’s Rome correspondent and a contributor to Religion News Service.)

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  • Behind Francis’ happy-face image, the Church is clearly trying to alienate and drive out anyone who does not have a “pray, pay, and obey” mindset.

  • Although he was personally informed of the accusations against them, Pope Francis protected these sexual predators: Fr. Mauro Inzoli (the pope later defrocked Inzoli but he is still a free man) Luis Fernando Figari, Archbishop Anthony Apuron, Auxiliary Bishop Gabino Miranda Melgarejo, Fr. Don Corradi and Archbishop Josef Wesolowski.
    After Pope Francis did nothing to stop Corradi, the priest and four others were arrested in November 2016 and charged with raping and molesting at least 22 children. More reports poured in and “it’s now thought that as many as 60 children fell victim to abuse.”
    Wesolowski was put under Vatican house arrest 14 months after the pope judged him to be guilty only after “there was a serious risk that [he] would be arrested on Italian territory at the request of the Dominican Republic authorities and then extradited,” as reported by Corriere della Sera. The archbishop was found with more than 100,000 computer files of child pornography, a “key ingredient” in sex trafficking. Wesolowski continued to possess child pornography even under Vatican house arrest.

  • What more does Francis need to take action. He has the whole history of clerical sex abuse in the US. He has three government reports on abuse and coverups in manly Catholic Ireland — the Ferns, Cloyne, Ryan and Murphy/Dublin reports. He has the two books on abuse in Spain by journalist Pepe Rodriguez (in Spanish). Plus info from Australia and 20 other countries. This stuff has been going on and being covered up for centuries. – Edd Doerr

  • Wow…”Wesolowski continued to possess child pornography even under Vatican house arrest”…Once you confess your sins in Confession, you’re good to go; your sins, no matter how heinous, are covered.These vile child-raping pedophiles know that they won’t last a day in prison, so the so-called “Sacrament of Confession is tailor-made to cover up their sins and crimes, and keep them covered. I said it before and I’ll say it again: I thank Almighty God for raising up Martin Luther, and I THANK GOD I AM NOT A CATHOLIC!!! ???

  • Laurence, You know the problem is far more complicated than that. It’s not just Catholics. The whole confession forgiveness repentance redemption is central to Christianity, not just Catholicism. It’s the same mechanism that allows Kim Davis to be married four times, or Anita Bryant twice, or Barnaby Joyce to attack gay people and yet defended family values by fornicating and adulterating with his girlfriend, etc etc etc etc

  • It’s not “the whole confession forgiveness repentance redemption”.

    It is “the whole repentance confession forgiveness righteousness” and it is central to Judaism, from which it was carried over into Christianity with modifications.

    Most people who have done something wrong appreciate forgiveness if they are sorry.

    One thing to note is that the repentance has to be sincere. If I beat my children every morning and confess every night it does not take a deity to understand I am not serious.

    That is what leads to the discussion in the Gospels when Jesus is asked how many times we have to forgive.

    To suggest that “It’s the same mechanism that allows …. Barnaby Joyce to attack gay people and yet defended family values by fornicating and adulterating with his girlfriend, etc etc etc etc” is to make clear your lack of accurate information.

    More appalling is the “the whole forgiveness forgiveness forgiveness forgiveness” shtick of a portion of the mind maven profession which does co-dependency for money.

  • The “has been going on and being covered up for centuries” is hysteria, not an objective look at a problem that exists in every human enterprise.

  • Your opinion, and your opinion only. And wrong. But then, part of my training was as a professional mind maven. As opposed to the soul saving profession which makes money out of codependency, but pretends it’s all about god. Right

    I could go in my files and pick out 100 of these hypocritical Christians, because they usually are, all of whom get caught in their sins, usually after attacking others, and proclaim that Jesus has forgiven them. Jesus isn’t around to defend himself.

    I’ve also seen sincere repentance. This isn’t it. In the case of Joyce, just how cognitively clueless do you have to be?

  • No, it’s quite accurate. You find it in Chaucer and Boccaccio. You find it in the writings of St. Peter Damien, 1000 years ago. I lost the source citation, but it was written about in the 300’s. Huge scandal about 400 years ago. And it is ongoing into and up to modern times.

  • I think it’s great. They haven’t really come to grips yet with their lessened cultural and legal clout in America and Europe. Their solution to that loss is to try to regain their power–so they can continue to silence victims and pretend nothing’s wrong. Meanwhile, people keep exercising their right to free association, and walk away from the whole sickening dysfunctional mess. It’s hard to imagine Catholicism being any kind of force in 20 or 30 years. I hope I’m alive to see it collapse.

  • It’s not quite accurate.

    Chaucer and Boccaccio wrote fiction.

    Yes, as in every endeavor the bad comes with the good.

    Jesus had 12 apostles, one was a rat fink.

    On a per capita basis there is a bigger problem and more cover-up in the public schools. Doctors and mental health providers off all stripes have been known to abuse their clients. So have lawyers.

    It should be combated, but constant vigilance is a requirement in every milieu.

  • Your “confession forgiveness repentance redemption is central to Christianity” in both Christianity and Judaism is erroneous, that is non-factual, that is it not consistent with the theology of any body in either religion. If you want to make that a topic, I’ll start with the rabbis and work forward into mainstream Christianity. Christianity’s version has only minor touch-ups.

    I would guess you’re an MSW based on your argument patterns. From your description I surmise you were dealing with individuals in the justice system.

    Since your files are private, “I could go in my files and pick out 100 of these hypocritical Christians” is mighty slim pickin’s in the way of support.

    Have a nice day.

  • Fiction does not mean untrue.


    Judas was not a rat fink, he was a patsy, doing .God’s will.

    So what? They’re not claiming o be god’s reps on earth.

  • Fiction cannot support your argument. You’ll need some facts for that.

    Judas was a rat fink in that tradition.

    The fact that the deity knows every act that every person will ever do in mainline Christianity does not support “doing God’s will”. Were that the case, the idea of free will would disappear.

    As I read it, they’re not claiming “o be god’s reps on earth”. They’re attributing that to their church.

    If their written teachings are an indication, they consider those who act in ways such as this as not remaining in the bosom of the church, and not only will those malfeasors be judged, they will be more harshly judged then those who can claim not to know better.

    I am unsurprised that the fact that doctors and mental health providers off all stripes have been known to abuse their clients produces a “So what?”.

    You know your target, and the facts count for naught.

  • Thanks for making it clear I had your “So what?” accurately targeted.

    It is just is not as much fun being the target as shooting at a target, is it?

  • Nope, you don’t have it right. What you have is a trump like personality, always convinced of your own correctness, intelligence, and superiority. that I will engage occasionally, but rarely find productive for either of us to do so.

    But you’re a right wIng catholic, so that is to be expected. You obviously have intelligence, just not as much intelligence as you have contempt.

    As for your allegation, I will take a minute. The church clams that people are called to the priesthood by god. That’s what vocation means. The church represents itself as the bastion and source of morality, its employees as mediators with god, its doctrines as promulgated by god.

    Doctors and teachers don’t.

    The hierarchy of the church has a centuries old reputation for covering up the predations of its priesthood. If you want to pretend that the church is somehow different from the people who comprise it, that is your privilege.

  • Obviously I do have it right. What you have is a background of some sort of bad experience with “religionists”, and so it is always a “heads they lose, tails you win” dialogue whenever anything that could even remotely be attributed to religion – e.g., natural law – arises in a discussion.

    This apparently childhood-rooted difficulty shows up in comments like “(t)he hierarchy of the church has a centuries old reputation for covering up the predations of its priesthood”, which as true of your profession in its widest sense, physicians, schoolteachers, and a host of others.

    It’s also exhibited in comments like “(t)he church clams that people are called to thr priesthood by god”, interpreted to mean that those called must no longer possess free will, but instead become marionettes, incapable of sin, or God must be a complete jerk. They must be perfect.

    That seems to point at an origin in childhood-rooted difficulty with an authority figure, probably male, who failed in some way or other.

    What I have contempt for is double standards, which you constantly exhibit, and pretensions about knowing something about religion, which you do not.

    As Judas illustrated, men remain men.

    Christians refer to a pilgrim church because that is what it is, and some who are in it are in for a rough eternity.

    Apparently it is not perfect, and that upsets you.

    The fact that you are not perfect doesn’t upset you.

    And there is a message in that.

  • It’s good to see fantasy is still an important part of some people’s lives, in this case an RRR’s.

  • Don’t go down the rabbit hole here, Mr.Carioca…the article isn’t about” every human enterprise”; it’s about the abject failure of the so-called Roman Catholic Church to protect innocent children from the vile, sordid perversions of pedophiles priests and their scuzzy enablers, including this obviously hypocritical pope. Stay on point. ?

  • Wow, Arnzen…That’s all you have to offer, cutesy, snarky little comments not worthy of a serious response? Why don’t you at least attempt to refute the contentions put forth in the article? BECAUSE YOU CAN’T, simply put. Your pope has nailed another nail in the coffin lid of the rancid, putrid corpse known as Roman Catholicism so, wise up. My own comments stand as well. I await your reply, if any,but fair warning: You don’t really want to go down this road with me, my friend, so…pick your battles carefully. ?

  • Absolutely nothing has changed about the sick, silent and secretive culture in the Catholic Church, except the pedo-protectors who lead the Church are more shrewd about their crimes.

  • The Catholic Church is a human enterprise, as are all endeavors in this world.

    Jesus told his apostles that the sheep and goats would be separated at the end of the world (Matthew 25:31-33), John described it as the wheat separated from the chaff (Luke:16- 17).

    Until then the good commingle with the bad, even in the church as Judas demonstrated.

    I think a scripture passage is illustrative:

    John 8:
    3 And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst,
    4 They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.
    5 Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?
    6 This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.
    7 So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.
    8 And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.
    9 And then he hear a loud “thunk!”, and when Jesus had lifted up himself, he saw the woman laying on the ground unconscious with blood on her head.
    10 Then Jesus saw none but the woman and Laurence Charles Ringo, who was picking up another stone.

  • You seem to be in conflict with everyone but extremists like yourself, zhiingenim.

    zaagitoon – “You really don’t understand this issue. You choose to sacrifice the lives and souls of children for your go*dam*ed pervert Church. You can go fu** yourself.”

    Nice talk.

    Yes, the NCR comments – while they lasted – were perfect for you and not being a priest a very wise choice for you and a blessing for the church.

  • I rather figured that a snarky little comment not worthy of a serious response deserved a snarky little comment.

    “My comments stand as well”. No more than three inches high.

  • Much more of a blessing for me, actually. The institutional practice of clergy child sex abuse and cover-up by you and your Church isn’t worthy of a civil response.

  • Wow…you’ve got some serious issues here, Jose. I actually feel sorry for you and your ilk; Roman Catholicism is like a pseudo-religious”Stockholm Syndrome” in which those ensnared by the institution will defend their capture no matter what the kidnappers do. Sort of reminds me of the kidnapper pope, Pius IX, when the Roman Catholic Church took the Jewish child Edgardo Mortara from his parents and never returned him; even to this day, some Roman Catholics defend the actions of this vile, rancid religious system. Sad, but…there it is. Your church’s propensity for excusing and defending sin, iniquity, and transgressions is nothing sort of astonishing…So save the faux outrage at being called out; it’s well deserved.

  • Wow…you’ve got some serious issues here, Laurence.

    I am sure you are unaware that Edgardo Mortara himself as an adult defended Pius IX.

    Now, put down that stone ….

    Give us the name of your denomination so we can see how it’s doing in the “holier than thou” derby.

  • Do you mean besides your posts?

    Btw, watch out over at Bilgrimage. He’ll be asking you for ID and begin making fun of your Obijwe name.

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