Pope challenged on sex abuse as young take stage in Panama

Pope Francis greets pilgrims as he arrives to celebrate Mass at the Santa Maria La Antigua cathedral on the occasion of his visit for World Youth Day, in Panama City, Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019. Francis turns his attention to the country's priests and religious sisters as he reaches the midway point in his five-day Central American visit. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

PANAMA CITY (AP) — Young people challenged Pope Francis on the Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal and the plight of Christians in the Middle East as the youth took center stage Saturday in the final events of World Youth Day in Panama.

Organizers said some 600,000 people turned out for Saturday’s main event, an evening vigil service in the Metropark area of east Panama City. Many of them were spending the night in tents or just on sleeping mats to be in place for an early morning final Mass formally ending the religious festival.

After looping through the cheering crowds in his popemobile, Francis told the young he understood their anxieties and fears for a future where jobs are scarce and education not always available.

“It is easy enough to criticize and complain about young people if we are depriving them of the jobs, education and community opportunities they need to take root and to dream of a future,” he told the pilgrims, many of whom clutched rosaries, swayed in prayer and draped themselves in flags from across the Americas and beyond.

The vigil was the culmination of a busy day for Francis that included a luncheon with 10 young pilgrims representing each of the continents. The Vatican described the atmosphere as familiar and festive, and the young people said they were surprised at Francis’ informality and interest in their questions.

Brenda Noriega, a Mexican-born youth minister from San Bernardino, California, said she told Francis that the sex abuse scandal in the United States was a “crisis right now we cannot avoid talking about.” She said Francis called abuse a “horrible crime” and assured her that the church was committed to supporting victims.

She said Francis also stressed the need for prayer, noting that he sent U.S. bishops on a retreat with his own preacher earlier this month ahead of his big summit on abuse prevention in February at the Vatican.

“For me as a youth minister, that means a lot,” Noriega told reporters after the luncheon. “Youth ministers, we have been with people who have been angry but sometimes we forget about prayer. We react too easy and too fast. So I think what His Holiness is telling us and the church is to first pray, build community and not forget about accompaniment.”

It was the first time the abuse scandal has come up publicly during Francis’ four-day visit to Panama. The abuse scandal hasn’t erupted publicly in Central America in the same way it has in the U.S., where the Catholic hierarchy is facing a crisis in confidence over its decades-long failures to protect young people from priests who rape and molest children.

During the luncheon, held on the campus of Panama City’s main seminary, the guests peppered Francis with questions.

Palestinian pilgrim Dana Salah said she asked Francis about the flight of Christians from the lands of Jesus’ birth. She said the pope assured her “‘Palestine will always remain the land of Jesus.'”

Emilda Santo Montezuma, an indigenous Panamanian, said she spoke to Francis about the environment and the rights of indigenous peoples — two issues particularly dear to Francis’ heart which will be the focus of a meeting of Amazonian bishops at the Vatican later this year. Francis’ support, she said, would embolden indigenous people to fight for their rights.

“It fills me with a lot of strength and to say to young people that we can do a lot, and more than we have done,” she told reporters.

Francis started the day by reopening Panama City’s main cathedral, Santa Maria la Antigua, which is considered the first cathedral of mainland America. He also consecrated its altar after a years-long renovation, rubbing holy oil onto the altar’s marble top, his vestment sleeves rolled up.

In his homily, Francis spoke frankly about the pressures, frustrations and anxieties facing priests and nuns in a rapidly changing world where it sometimes seems the Catholic message has no place.

Francis warned their weariness can sometimes be paralyzing due to the burdens of their work and the “toxic” conditions in some of their communities.

“The weariness of hope comes from seeing a church wounded by her own sin, which so often failed to hear all those cries that echoed the cry of the Master: ‘My God, why have you forsaken me?'” Francis said.

Francis wraps up his visit Sunday with the morning Mass and a visit to a church-run home for people suffering with HIV.

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Nicole Winfield


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  • From the article — “She said Francis called abuse a “horrible crime” and assured her that the church was committed to supporting victims.”

    I hope he also said there would be consequences for the perpetrators of the abuse and for those who have, and perhaps continue to, cover up the crimes. And if he did not make such a statement, it would seem to indicate that such behavior is indeed systemic and systematic — dealt with superficially in the short run and unlikely to change in the long run.

  • “The abuse scandal hasn’t erupted publicly in Central America in the same
    way it has in the U.S., where the Catholic hierarchy is facing a crisis
    in confidence over its decades-long failures to protect young people
    from priests who rape and molest children.”

    In ordinary English:

    Slip and fall attorneys who can make millions propping up mentally ill people to claim abuse in various fora, and pay off lobby groups to keep the drum beating, and the legal system to support them do not exist in Central America.

    Nor does an anti-Catholic “progressive” Yellow Press exist in those countries.

  • Still searching for something to prove “systemic and systematic” I read.

    It is not going to happen because it was not systemic and systematic.

  • Mark/Bob ignores the books, news reports and government reports on abuse in the US, Ireland, Spain, Australia, Germany, Chile, etc, etc. In other words, Mark/Bob is part of the coverup.

  • Mark, you’re STILL in denial. The consequences and covering up have gone on for so long and affected-harmed so many Catholics, that it like a terminal, malignant cancer. DEATH is inevitable.

  • Your assessment appears to have come out of nowhere beyond your fevered and anti-Catholic imagination.

  • Mark, my assessment comes from a lifetime of witnessing the suffering of so many of God’s beloved children at the hands of deceivers, abusers, and liars. Now, I’m just an old teacher, traveler, minister, with a slightly sad heart, sustained by the Lord, to extend love and truth. I’m not “anti” anything, except sin.

  • My assessment comes from a lifetime of witnessing anti-Catholics averting their glances from the problems all around them and focusing on who they happen to hate, which leads to comments like “… covering up have gone on for so long and affected-harmed so many Catholics, that it is like a terminal, malignant cancer”.

  • I think my comment above suggests that I love those who strive to keep the lord’s commandments and love HIM, while I reject those who masquerade as God’s servants, while molesting and deceiving innocents. Yes, I hate the sin of abuse in any form, especially by those in power over others, but you can never accuse me of hating abusers.

  • I think your comment above suggests that you’ve turned a blind eye to the major sources of abuse – public schools and non-Catholic religions – and wish to point the finger at the least frequent offender.

    It is appropriate to hate abuse. It is not appropriate to suggest that “systemic and systematic” is factual.

  • Oh, no, I definitely know the difference between hate and criticism, and you do not engage in criticism.

  • Edd ignores the overwhelming evidence that the odds for a child being abused by a public school teacher are ten times higher than that of being abused by a Catholic priest.

  • If your odds of getting abused are ten times higher in A than B, A would appear to be real problem.

  • Short version:

    1 – Sexual abuse is rampant in public schools but almost totally uninvestigated:



    It makes the clergy abuse “scandal” look like a walk in the park.

    2 – One of the major reasons why it remains uninvestigated and unreported is teachers’ unions colluding with school management:



    For fun Google – Chicago Schools Abuse