Pope Francis has delighted many, myself included, as the kinder, gentler pontiff. But I've said from the outset that when it comes to Catholic leadership the sex abuse crisis is where the rubber meets the road. So when His Holiness addressed the crisis with the same tired rap we've been hearing from Church apologists for years, he brought predictable disappointment and outrage.
When challenged in an interview about his less than proactive response to the crisis, his reaction was to rest on the laurels of all the progress the Church has made. And in a second thoroughly typical reply he deflected criticism of the Catholic Church by making vague statements about how badly everybody else has handled the issue.
“The Catholic Church is perhaps the only public institution that moved with transparency and responsibility,” the pope continued, arguing that most abuse occurs in the home or other community environments. “No one else did as much. And yet, the church is the only one being attacked.”
Does the Catholic Church train its clerics in self-righteous blame throwing?
I suppose if fighting one costly legal battle after another to protect files, cataloging decades of complicated schemes to protect pedophile priests, can be called "transparency," the Catholic Church could be called transparent. I just don't think most people define it that way.
“His comments reflect an archaic, defensive mindset,” said Barbara Dorris of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP.
“He is triumphalist about clergy abuse of children and silent about the complicity of bishops,” said Terence McKiernan, head of BishopAccountability.org.
“Hearing the Pope use the abuse-occurs-elsewhere excuse is truly disheartening,” said the U.S.-based church reform group Voice of the Faithful, echoing a sense of disappointment among many Catholics who hoped the pope’s pledges and moves to reform the church on many levels would extend to an examination of conscience on clergy abuse.
The Vatican seems to be as tone deaf as ever as its spokesman explained away delays on a sex abuse commission by pointing to other priorities such as reforming the Vatican bureaucracy.
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Wednesday the upheaval of those reforms had delayed getting the commission off the ground. But he said there was no doubt it would, and that it would eventually propose new initiatives to protect children and be a model for the church and society at large.
"I'm waiting for it, and I hope with all my heart (and I know that qualified experts have been contacted in an exploratory way to see if they would be available)," Lombardi said in an email.
So the message from the Vatican is still that this pivotal issue is not a top priority.
They've made their reforms, of which they're very proud. They've handled it better than anyone else has. (???) And now they'd like to move it to the back burner, thank you very much.
Three priests and one former priest in Scotland will give the Vatican another opportunity to demonstrate this transparency of which Pope Francis speaks, as they demand information on the elusive Cardinal Keith O'Brien. Their local church's commitment to transparency has led them to stonewall the investigation, so these four men, who experienced O'Brien's abuses directly, are appealing directly to the pontiff.
Describing the church as a "formidable machine" that had blocked any investigation, one told the Observer: "The abuse we received at the hands of Keith O'Brien is dwarfed by the systematic abuse we have received from church officials. They have passed the buck, misrepresented the truth, engaged in cover-up and, having asked for our trust and co-operation, shamelessly procrastinated and hidden behind a veneer of diplomacy and charm. I want to ask Pope Francis, can you sort this out?"
They would like the Church to be transparent about a number of issues related to Cardinal O'Brien's record and an apology. The Church can only be transparent in its apologies with Vatican permission, apparently. Or so states O'Brien's successor Archbishop Leo Cushley.
Cushley, a former Vatican diplomat, insisted he could not take action independently, but would pass requests to the Vatican. He offered a private apology to the men for their suffering, but said a public apology required Rome's approval. A spokesman for the archbishop said: "Archbishop Cushley has listened to the parties concerned and will transmit any information to the Holy See. Any decision on further action will rest with the Holy See as jurisdiction in the matter rests with the pope."
Much about O'Brien's crimes remains murky and so has the Vatican's corrective process where he is concerned. After graciously bowing out of the conclave and subsequently resigning, little is known, except that he has bizarrely started circulating pictures of himself dressed in cardinal's robes. This seems a rather brazen move from a cardinal who resigned in shame.
O'Brien's four known victims seek that good old Vatican transparency on four major issues:
- how O'Brien had come to be appointed,
- the extent of his predatory behavior
- whether those close to him had been maneuvered into positions of power under his leadership and
- about potential sacramental abuse by O'Brien.
Given how much better the Catholic Church is than everybody else at handling abusers in its midst in an open, above-board manner, I'm sure that won't be a problem.