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Pope Francis apologizes for sexual-abuse scandal.


Today, in an address to members of the International Catholic Child Bureau (BICE)--an NGO that works to protect the rights and dignity of children--Pope Francis asked for forgiveness for the "damage [abusive] priests have done for sexually abusing children." Noting that the total number of abusive priests is high, "obviously not compared to the number of all the priests," Francis reassured the audience that "the church is aware of this damage; it is personal, moral damage carried out by men of the church." He promised that "we will not take one step backward with regards to how we will deal with this problem, and the sanctions that must be imposed--on the contrary, we have to be even stronger."

Is this earth-shaking? Not really. But given that the last time he spoke on the subject it didn't exactly go over too well, this is a marked improvement. And--significantly--these remarks were not part of the prepared text. Francis could have read through the speech as written and avoided the uncomfortable subject altogether, bringing headlines like, "Pope Speaks to Child-Protection Group, Ignores Sexual Abuse." But he didn't. And what he said carries some force.

Francis pledged not to "take one step backward." He referred to "sanctions that must be imposed." Of course, the question remains: sanctions for whom? For abusive priests? We're aware of those sanctions. What about the bishops who enabled abusers? Francis has made it clear that he's not afraid to investigate an accused cardinal. But is he willing to penalize bishops who have put kids at risk--even after the hard lessons of 2002? That's the great unfinished business of the sexual-abuse scandal.




Commenting Guidelines

The excruciatingly slow process of accountability grinds on, drip by drip by drip. Or does it? 

Yes, apologies are plentiful, words are more than plentiful, but when will they not put a burden on survivors to forgive --- one more thing they are supposed to do despite no actions beyond delaying justice for all involved.

Where is an apology that does not inject some minimizing proviso like comparisons to all priests? 

Wake me when there is compelling evidence that "the actions of men are the best interpreters of their thoughts" and Francis' actions speak for themselves.

Does no one in charge in the church see the damage done by the dream delayed that dries up one's spirit like a raisin in the sun?

What is it about accountability for sexual abuse that must take forever, if ever, when money/bling and any micro-hint of liberal outlook (e.g., William Morris) is quickly dispatched.

Too little too late matters.

See "Past members of sex abuse commissions tell of struggles with bishops" by Jason Berry at




Talk is cheap. Until there is real action calling bishops to accountability and imposing sanctions for those who cover up abuse and protect perps, this is just one more string of words. I have been reading a lot about the Russian revolution this year and was surprised to find myself drawing parallels between the Romanov family and the Catholic bishops, but the parallels are there. The Romanovs were a divided family when it came to how to address the challenges in governing Russia and those at the top were so assured that their position was ordained from on high and finally they were so exploited and divided by the likes of Rasputin that they had no energy whatever to bring to the work of sorting out the situation of the Russian people and making a reality based plan to address that situation responsibly.

When does Bishop Finn go?


I think you have to give Francis credit for placing Marie Collins on the new commission. EVen Tom Doyle does. She is targeting bishops as they were/are the principles in the coverup. 


Marie Collins, the Irish sex abuse survivor who is a member of Pope Francis' new commission, told The Associated Press that her top priority was for the Vatican to punish bishops who have covered up for priest abusers.

"There's no point in my mind of having gold-plated child-protection programs in place if there's no sanction for a bishop who decides to ignore them," Collins said. "The reason everyone is so angry is not because they have abusers in their ranks. Abusers are in every rank of society. It's because of the systemic cover-up."

"Putting Marie Collins on the commission was a brilliant decision," said Dominican Fr. Thomas Doyle,..."

Am I the only subscriber to Commonweal that is not a cynic on the subject of the Pope's response to child abuse? Does it make sense to harp on this over and over again supposing that the next time we harp something will change. Where I come from that practice is recognized as a form of insanity. This pope is on the way to instituting changes that a year ago were completely unforeseen. He is mightily trying to change the culture so that, in time, it will permit additional changes once thought of as impossible. That could include a process for removing bishops whose ministries have become ineffective for various reasons. The process that has been in place is that they just get moved around. I think Francis intends to change that, but it will take time. Is not patience still a virtue?

The "sanctions" that must be imposed against whom?  And why should the pope be asking victims for forgiveness when he hasn't done anything to get this systemic abuse stopped?

Until the pope takes decisive actions and stops making vague promises, nothing changes. The church may not be going backwards, but it sure is standing still when it comes to the sex abuse crises.
Pope Francis must fire and punish the church hierarchy, the bishops who have covered up sex crimes against kids and those who are still covering up these crimes.
Tragically the sex abuse and cover up within the church hierarchy throughout the world is still going on to this day. Cardinals and bishops are still not removing accused predator clergy, and they are still not reporting to law enforcement. Their so called "zero tolerance" policy is not being followed by the bishops who created it. They don't have to, because there is no punishment to force the bishops to change their ways of protecting their power and the institution rather than protecting children.
Once again we need outside law enforcement to get involved to stop these crimes against humanity.

Judy Jones, SNAP, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests


I understand your chagrin. I am pulling for Francis too. But it is not cynical to be skeptical. Right now the hierarchy has to show that it is serious about getting bishops to stop covering up. The bishops really ignored their mandates of 2002. Fighting those they appointed to the committes to stop the coverups.The burden proof is now on the church leadership to show that the coverup will not continue. 

@John W. Feehily

No, you are not the only one. I'm right there with you.

Some people will never, ever be satified, no matter what the Church or the pope does.

With that said, just how exactly is the pope to "penalize" those scandalous bishops who, apparently, have no problem remaining in their respective posts? 

Let's compare this sad, pitiful situation with the German case of "Bling Bishop." How did he get removed? From what I gather, (a) people of his diocese spoke up, which must have gone beyond getting outraged and complaining on the Internet, after which (b) the German bishops' conference chimed in, backing those people up, and [yadi yadi yada] (c) the Bling Bishop himself tendered his resignation to the pope. 

Has any of these things ever been done here? I don't recall. 

Y'all are sad people are cynical about this situation? I'm amazed you have anyone left even to feel cynical.

I agree with Carolyn and Molly.  It's become almost impossible to imagine what it would be like if the church *did* actually act on this issue, as a secular insttution would which discovered high ranking officers covering up sex abuse.  It was asked above ... "how exactly is the pope to "penalize" those scandalous bishops who, apparently, have no problem remaining in their respective posts?"  ....  fire them or defrock them or excommunicate them ... he has options, options he hasn't hesitated to use on others like Cardinal O'Brien, Fr. Greg Reynolds, Fr. John Dear, etc.

@Crystal Watson

"he has options, options he hasn't hesitated to use on others like Cardinal O'Brien, Fr. Greg Reynolds, Fr. John Dear, etc"'

Cardinal O'Brien resigned himself.

Former priest Greg Reyolds was excommunicated because, according to the reports I've read, he continued to publicly reject Church teaching and disobey rules, despite numerous prior notices and warnings.

Fr. John Dear is still a priest, just not a Jesuit anymore, and his and the Jesuits' decision to part ways has nothing to do with Pope Francis. 

So, apples and oranges.


Gene - there is already precedents in where folks such as Finn can go.  He can be moved to Conception Abbey near his current diocese for a life of prayer.

Or, give them options - abbey for prayer or mission lands to serve as a missionary (not a bishop).

O'Brien did not step down voluntarily and it certainly was not his choice to  leave the UK ...

Reynolds was excommunicated because he spoke up for women's ordination, but many others (for instance Robert Egan SJ has written a couple of articles at Commonweal on that subject) have done the same and have not been excommunicated.  And he has spoken up for civil gay marriage, but so have others, (like Frank Brennan SJ at Eureka Street) but they haven't been excommunicated.  I'm not sure why Reynolds was excommunicated.

Pope Francis apparently confirmed the dismissal of John Dear from the Jesuits ...

I have to wonder if the reason the pope has punished the people mentioned above but not the bishops who have been shown to have covered up sex abuse is because he thinks O'Brien and Reynols and Dear have done something wrong but that those covering up sex abuse have not.

You guys talk as if it's still 2002. John Paul II, thought seriously ill, summoned all the US cardinals to Rome after which he addressed these revelations with clear condemnation. That was the same time when Bernard Law was sacked (oh, sure, he resigned). By the way he didn't get his sinecure in Rome until after he had spent the better part of a year as a chaplain for some nuns but in disgrace. So JPII gets some credit to offset his being taken in by Maciel. Let's remember that Maciel was a monster who managed to charm his Roman patrons with generous donations for their private charities. Then came Benedict who finally sent Maciel away. He made sincere efforts to turn the corner on this. Doesn't everyone remember his personal meetings with victims in Baltimore. I remember reading that some of those victims were moved by the pope's gesture. Popes do not make good prosecutors. He's a shepherd to his flock and a brother to the bishops. Let's concede that he might have done more while remembering that he couldn't have done more than by resigning and opening the way to Francis. While Bergoglio is not the Second Coming, he is saying and doing things that have the potential of turning the entire church around. Those of you who want him to jump all over the bishops you despise be reminded that he has no reason to despise them. He hardly knows them. But the commission, answerable only to him, may well come up with recommendations to how the worst offenders can be sent on their way. I am hopeful. Part of the reason for my hopefulness is that I continue to believe that Jesus Christ is present in the church. I continue to believe that the Mass provides faithful people with an opportunity to encounter him in his word and in his sacrament. In short, I can walk (decry the scandal and coverup) and chew gum (remain faithful) at the same time.

Many people have walked away from organized religion. Unfortunately, many who have "walked away" have lost their faith in the Lord and I believe the bishops are responsible for the loss of faith for those tens of thousands of people. Along with that responsibility goes the responsibility of individual bishops for the abuse of those children after the fact, that is, when a particular bishop really knew that an individual abused a child but instead of immediately removing him from ministry and reporting him to civil authorities asap, he transferred him to the other end of the diocese where that priest continued to abuse children.

Thank God there is still a lot of outrage out there. The bishops can and are still throwing around excommunications and trying to exercise their power but their moral power is pretty much gone. Ordinary people just aren't listening to the bishops anymore and those who do participate in the Church, do so on the local parish level. Ordinary people I talk to tell me that everything, everything they hear from the pulpit is filtered through the lens of the hierarchy's mishandling of the clergy sexual abuse scandal.

Remember too, that the bishops of the USCCB only did what they did do when things imploded in the Archdiocese of Boston, Massachusetts was because they got CAUGHT, like deer in headlights. They didn't want to act but they had to because of society's outrage via The Boston Globe and one very brave Catholic judge in Boston. We, the people, have to keep the pressure on and not be distracted by all their diversionary tactics including the attacks on American Sisters, which I personally view as such a tactic, and individual excommunications here and there.

On another level, though, we as citizens in a democracy must realize that it is society's responsibility to protect it most vulnerable members, especially its children. No religious denomination, not synagogue, mosque or cult can or should be depended upon to protect the children. If we didn't know that before we certainly know it now. 

The PR spin, however, continues. 

Just today Channel 10, the local Philadelphia NBC affiliate, had a reporter and cameraman outside the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul on the Parkway in center city to ask people what they thought of comments on forgiveness made by Pope Francis. I was there in Philly with supporters of legislative reform and one parent whose son, having been sexually abused and introduced to drugs by a trusted priest, committed suicide. That father was interviewed on NBC. Later on our local news just a few minutes after 6 p.m. it was reported that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia released a statement that the diocese goes "above and beyond (Pennsylvania) state law" regarding the sexual abuse of children.

Not true! 

What is true is that Archbishop Charles Chaput along with the bishops of Pennsylvania and through the lobbying expertise of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference vigorously, aggressively and viciously oppose the removal of statutes of limitation in regard to the sexual abuse of minor children and they continue to oppose a two year window for bringing forward previously time barred cases of childhood sexual abuse, by anyone, in PA as has been the diocese's pattern of behavior for the past few years. Such behavior is not out of character for Chaput because he has done the same thing in Colorado. He misrepresented proposed bills there and was successful in defeating that bill. Because of that success he is now in Philadelphia doing the same thing.

What the bishops, and now Pope Francis, seem to forget is that JUSTICE comes before FORGIVNESS. Moreover, really only two can forgive one who does such a despicable and egregious act; God and the individual violated.  And that necessitates taking responsibility for one's crimes and mortal sins (for those errant individuals who still believe in mortal sins) which isn't easy for a narcissistic sociopath.

Sister Maureen Paul Turlish
Advocate for Survivors & Legislative Reform
New Castle, DE

"I have to wonder if the reason the pope has punished the people mentioned above but not the bishops who have been shown to have covered up sex abuse is because he thinks O'Brien and Reynols and Dear have done something wrong but that those covering up sex abuse have not."

Oh wow, seriously? 


Weren't those nuns lucky.

I agree with Molly.

Yes, seriously ... he's mentioned pedphiles  but has he ever said a single wotd about the cover-ups or those who covered-up?

John W. Feehily @7:04pm:

Beautifully and eloquently said. THANK YOU!


when will they not put a burden on survivors to forgive

Carolyn - if the requirement to forgive is a burden, then it is one that all of us bear.  I agree it can't be easy for someone who has been the victim of something horrible to forgive her wrongdoer, whether the wrong is sexual abuse a minor, or physical abuse by a spouse, or losing a loved one to a drunk driver, or losing family members to war crimes, or losing a parent on 9/11, or any of the million other ways that people can be grievously wronged.  Over time, it may be possible for at least some victims to forgive.  I'd think we'd want to hold out hope for that possibility, and be willing to work with any victims that are willing to walk the path of forgiveness. 

O'Brien did not step down voluntarily

Crystal - the article to which you link states a number of times that he resigned.  But whether he jumped or was pushed, surely it's a good thing that he has been punished.   The article suggests that he made sexual advances to young seminarians.  Presumably they were not minors, yet it is still a gross misuse of power (and so is a form of abuse), not to mention a violation of his sacred vows.   Let's support the church when it gets justice right, and urge the church to get it right in other cases.

What the bishops, and now Pope Francis, seem to forget is that JUSTICE comes before FORGIVNESS. Moreover, really only two can forgive one who does such a despicable and egregious act; God and the individual violated.  And that necessitates taking responsibility for one's crimes and mortal sins (for those errant individuals who still believe in mortal sins) which isn't easy for a narcissistic sociopath.

Sister Maureen Paul - I don't fully agree with you.  The requirement to be willing to forgive belongs to each of us who has been wronged.  That willingness is not contingent on justice nor on the wrongdoer taking responsibility, although surely the ideal is that the wrongdoer ask his victim for forgiveness and that justice be done to the abuser.   And I don't know why you think that it is errant to believe in mortal sins. All of us can choose to separate ourselves from God.  If a priest sexually abusing a minor doesn't accomplish that, I don't know what would.  


Of course O'Brien should have been  punished - I'm not disputing that, I'm saying that if the Pope can fire him, why not the bishops/cardinals who covered up abuse?

The paramount issue at this point, as before, is not justice or repentence or mercy for the perps or their bishops.  The paramount immediate need i to remove from office those bishops who still provide cover for priests who damage children.  Forgiveness can come later.

Pope Francis has so far removed one accused (South American?) bishop and detains him in the Vatican.  Even after a whole year, Francis is retaining such offenders as Cardinal Law in high positions.  Bishop Finn is still in office.   No, Francis' record on the sexual abuse of children leaves a great deal undone that could easily be done.  Sadly, I have come to the conclusion that he *still* doesn't get it.  Maybe Mary Collins can disabuse him of his ignorance.  She was a good move, but at this point I'm not very optimistic, in spite of Francis' obvious kindnes.  He just doesn't see the problem :-(  

So Jim are you suggesting that we limit ourselves to working with the victims who forgive? I think there is so little understanding of the harm done to those who were sexually assaulted as children that it permits people to speak speciously of forgiveness. We're not talking about hurt feelings and some unhappy memories here. For some, deep in the throes of profound PTSD, we're talking about a brain injury in which confusing and horrifying memories can be triggered and act more like a seizure than "remembering" anything.
For others, maybe on the other side of the worst of that kind of "remembering" there is the bitterness of losing so many opportunities for joy and growth due to the harm done. For those close to people suffering the aftermath, there is absolute disbelief that apologies and calls for forgiveness are ever in the mouth of our leaders but no one has been held truly accountable. Forgiveness is a process rather than a moment in situations like this, something that folks need accompaniment in rather than exhortations to practice.

Jim, I think you misunderstood the sister's last statement. She was being sarcastic when she used the word "errant".  She believes in mortal sin. She just doesn't think the abusers and cover-uppers do.


I am giving the pope a chance. I regret that some almost appear to resent that he removed the "bling" bishop before making further headway on some of the bishops implicated in the abuse scandals. It's all b

It's all bad. It's all linked to power and entitlement. It all hurts the Church and hurts our ability to ring out the gospel message.


Just the other day there was a conversation that turned to religion, and I was the only person present who was practicing a religion. I was happily taking jabs about truth, salvation, obedience, and other topics, until the conversation turned to sex abuse and cover-ups by clergy, and then each in turn had his accusation to make, each one worse than the previous one, and all I could say was: "I agree"  "I agree" "I agree," sinking lower and lower in my seat. Then all fell silent.

I cannot defend the church's record on sex abuse.

When pope Francis says that the number of abusive priests is small compared to the total number of priests, it is true, of course, but he is missing the point. "Yes, but..." is not the right answer.

Not to mention hurting individual people.

Lee Podles says that Pope Francis is a fixer, not a reformer.  I'm afraid it's starting to look like Podles is right.


H/T Rod Dreher

To those of you who think Pope Francis isn't doing anything, what have YOU done yourselves to bring about the changes you so desire, besides posting on the Internet? 


@Maria: I am a DRE, I do the safe touch training for children from K to 10 with parents present; I have done the safe environment training for volunteers and I basically take the flak for this at the level of parish since all can see that while we screen and train volunteers, there are bishops getting arrested, in some cases even convicted, but no consequences to them from above in the Church unless they advocate women's ordination or mess with the money.

Maria, I have stopped donating money to the Catholic church and make donations to other institutions instead, until there is some accountability. I always watch over kids with a keen awareness of the possibility of sex abuse. When I see a situation I don't like, I try to create moments where kids might be able to confide in me, should there be anything to confide. I have indirectly  let it be known that I would be ready to report to the police if I saw something. Given the lack of institutional guarantees, I have decided to take matters into my own hands, as far as I can: I do not trust anyone to not abuse kids under my care, and am correspondingly watchful. I do not rely on my own judgment of people: even the people whom I personally trust, I still keep track of their interactions with kids and make a mental note of any situation that, if it were a pattern, might be a sign that something is going on. It's not so much what I do,  but a general attitude of paying attention. It's the opposite of blind trust. I believe that a contributing factor to the sex abuse crisis was that people used to trust priests blindly. Where children are concerned, we must resist that desire to trust.

It's a little like when you are walking in town and see little children on the sidewalk: you almost instinctively keep track of where they are with respect to traffic, whether there might be any risk of accident, and are ready to intervene quickly if needed.

I wish you were not so defensive. We are trying to help the church.

I have talked to many older people who have told me, one after the other: "The sex abuse scandal - that came as a complete surprise. I have been critical of many things among the clergy, but that possibility never even crossed my mind. It was unimaginable."  With that mindset, they could well have worked with an abusive priest and not understood what they were seeing. In that way they were part of the problem. 


As to pope Francis, his earlier remarks proved that he does not "get it". A few well-meaning sentences cannot undo that. He needs to meet with sex abuse survivors, with pope Benedict, with his committee, and to change his outlook. I believe he can. We will know he has when we see some actions, such as, for example, moving Bp Finn to a titular See.


"I wish you were not so defensive. We are trying to help the church."

I am not being defensive. Just incredibly sad and frustrated, as I'm sure you are.

But, I just don't see how harping on the same complaints and critiques -- some of which are not even warranted -- over and over and over again as if it were Groundhog day is helping the church.

Clearly, you and others don't believe the church is doing anything different; I disagree and have (almost) absolute faith that she is finally moving along the righ path toward healing and justice, albiet at a much slower pace than one would want, and not exactly the same way one would want.

Most importantly though, as John Feehily so powerfully said earlier, I believe God is with us, with the church, and this gives me hope, despite it all -- hope I never dared to have under previous pontificates.

And that's all I have to say about that. Peace.


I am under the impression that pope Benedict emeritus understood the evil of sex abuse, but had his hands tied by his immense respect of tradition. Pope Francis, in contrast, certainly seems to feel free to take on new initiatives whenever they seem fit to him. If only he could understand that the gravity of  this scandal puts in question the way the church is governed, he might be willing to start a reform. I think that he is a good listener: let him listen and take it in.

The way I see it, this issue is tied in to larger issues in the Church. I too want to applaud the good that Pope Francis does to change the overall context in which we continue to wrestle with these questions. If it is true, as Claire suggests, that Pope Benedict "understood the evil" but "had his hands tied" we begin to see that the arrival at good outcomes does not simply or automatically follow from apprehending the evil that needs to be addressed. Perhaps by approaching the issues step by step, Pope Francis will bring more people along who also need to contribute to the good of responsible policies and decisions, and the ultimate outcome will be greater than anything he can do alone. 

John Wilkins described the personality of John Paul II as a "colossus" striding across the world and credits him with catalyzing the fall of communism in Poland. But then he also describes his impotent rage at the freedoms of the West, and of course at the way Poland didn't turn out to be the ideal Catholic country he thought it would become once freed of the yoke of communism. JPII was the pope for so many years, I suspect we still carry this image and try, unconsciously, to apply it to Pope Francis. The hero striding across the world, the one who will overturn evil and finally free us from the yoke of slavery. 

I read the situation the same way Claire and others do - Francis still doesn't "get it".  He doesn't get that the issue is not the tragedy of the existence of priests who molested kids, and those who give a knee-jerk defense based on "everyone else" does it too also seem to miss the point. The point is that clericalism is THE huge obstacle in this, causing the wounds to go deeper instead of healing.  Just imagine how the last decade might have unfolded in the church if Benedict had ordered Cardinal Law to a life of penance in a monastary instead of installing him with a presigious cathedral and committee assignments, including being a member of the group that vets bishops. The fox guarding the henhouse it seemed.  He was rewarded for his "loyalty" to the institution, which was his disloyalty to the victims and to God.

But the protection of the hierarchy has trumped everything else, so the wounds fester and fester.

Rita is right that this issue is tied to larger issues - and these include clericalism first and foremost.  I think that IF Francis at some point can stop being so defensive himself (a bishop who also did not exhibit compassion for victims at one time in his earlier life), he would act very quickly and decisively.  He doesn't see it - yet.  One hopes and prays that he will. He gives hope because he has shown that he can open his mind when he wants to, open it to consider possibilities that he once would not have been open to considering. He admits to having changed his mind, and to having "grown".  So, if he is not frozen into the idolatry of clericalism that plagues the church, maybe he will someday see the light and DO something.  The church has had enough of empty words.

From a wire story in the Washington Post this morning:

“This may be the first time a pope has talked of sanctions against complicit bishops. But that is all it is: talk,” said Barbara Dorris of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a leading victims advocacy group.

On church governance, church finances, and simple living, he acts,” Dorris said Friday. “On the rape of children, he talks.”

"I still keep track of their interactions with kids and make a mental note of any situation that, if it were a pattern, might be a sign that something is going on."

Claire --

I think this brings up the problem of body language.  Body language can say a great deal, but a great deal of it is ambiguous, e.g., a hug could be simple affection, it could be an expressiion of lust.  We are rightly loathe, I think,to make accustions on the basis only of one ambiguous bit of body language.  But if such ambiguous behavior persists, then what do you do?  What are the teachers taught to do by those who train them? 

Anne C. --

You seem to be saying that, while it may be true that Francis doesn't get how deeply the children have suffere, his defensiveness about his priests is the greater problem,   i agree that he doesn't seem to have the foggiest notion that his own view of his priests and bishops is flawed.  The biggest probem isn't that he hasn't removed the likes of Bishop Finn -- the biggest problem is that he doesn't see *the necessity to do so*.  

I can understand his regularly defending the many, many good priests, but so far he seems untterly incapable emotionally of admitting that "many, many" of his "sons" are rotters, and some of them are bishops.  His admirable loyalty is geting in the way of his seeing some of his sons as they really are.

I think that eventually Pope Benedict did see the perverts for what they are, and he did have great empathy with the victims.  He just didn't have the physical strength to persist in reforming the hierarchy, so mercifully he resigned. Let's pray that Francis learns from his behavior

This seems to be back to the idea that the Church, rather than the police, decides if a complaint of child abuse is credible. It would be much more convincing if it said that the police had investigated and that prosecutors had decided the charges were unfounded - rather than that the CDF had. 

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — The Apostolic Delegation of Puerto Rico announced Friday that the Vatican found no basis for sexual abuse accusations made against a well-known bishop in the U.S. territory.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which takes on such accusations, closed the case against Arecibo Bishop Daniel Fernandez, according to the delegation.

Fernandez said in a statement that he was satisfied with the decision. He recently announced that he had defrocked six priests accused of sex abuse from his diocese and that the accusations against him were made in revenge.

‘‘I have always maintained that the allegations were false, and I trusted that the truth would prevail,’’ he said.

Agnes Poventud, attorney for the man who had accused Fernandez of molesting him when he was a child, rejected the decision. She was quoted by El Nuevo Dia newspaper as saying that Vatican officials never interviewed her client.

Poventud did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

The decision comes as Fernandez fights a request from Puerto Rico’s justice department to obtain confidential documents related to an ongoing sex abuse probe at his diocese in the north coastal town of Arecibo. The diocese had filed a lawsuit arguing that it should not have to turn over the information because it had already provided sufficient details and wanted to protect the identity of those who made the allegations.

A judge last week struck down the lawsuit and gave the diocese two weeks to hand over the information. In addition, authorities in early March charged one of Arecibo’s defrocked priests, Edwin Antonio Mercado Viera, with committing lewd acts.

Puerto Rico’s justice department also is investigating three other dioceses facing similar accusations.

I saw this today in response to what Francis said ... three actions that need to be taken: ...

  1. Remove all priests known to have raped children or others, and require reporting to secular authorities. Today, throughout the world, priests who are known to church officials continue to hold posts in congregations, schools, orphanages, and elsewhere, unbeknownst to local communities. The church has shown over and over that it cannot police itself. These matters must be turned over to the proper authorities, and it is well within the scope of  Pope Francis’s power to make sure this happens.
  2. Punish church officials who have covered up cases of rape and sexual violence by clergy, failed to report them, and obstructed investigations by law enforcement. Pope Francis’s promised “sanctions” must address the systemic impunity that helped to create the culture of rape and sexual violence that exists today within the church.
  3.  Encourage and protect church whistleblowers who have come forward with information about the crisis of sexual violence. So far church officials have intimidated and retaliated against whistleblowers. Pope Francis can and must work with whistleblowers to get to the root of the problem.

The article says that the man accused the bishop of molesting him "when he was a child."

That raises the question of what to do when the police will not investigate because the statute of limitations has expired

How can the Church regain its credibility in that situation?

One possibility is to strengthen the role of lay diocesan review boards by allowing them to receive complaints directly from the public,  investigate them with their own staff or consultants and publish their findings publicly rather than simply acting as behind the scenes advisors to the bishop. 

There's a similarity to recent discussions on whether military commanders should be able to decide which accusations of rape can be prosecuted and what penalties can be imposed. 

Bishops and their lawyers are probably more comfortable with the present situation. The question is whether the they will see the advantage of trading some control for greater credibility. 



One of the things Pope Francis set out to do (and was voted for, by at least some of the cardinals, to do) is revive the "collegiality" debated at, and encouraged in the documents of, Vatican II. This would mean leaving more decisions to national bishops' conferences and individual bishops and carefully taking local views into account when making decisions at the center. Americans, wrestling with a translation of the Mass produced by Romans seriously deficient in English, could only applaud. BUT...

...But if that is how the Church should be run, and how Francis wants to run it, he can't put on his Superman cape, a la Blessed JPIII and swoop across continents, firing bishops here, sentencing them to three years hard reflection there, staging events for the edification of the most outraged in our midst.

Yes, his statements on the subject have been tinny, and yes, it is passing strange that Bishop Finn still is allowed to play dress up on Sundays. But the advisory commission is meeting, the process of collegiality is under way and maybe, in the end, the Church will steady itself the way the bishops of Vatican II thought it should, even if it is slower and less showy than shaking a finger at a Sadinista or calling down the Holy Spirit on the communist government of Poland. Or so I pray.

"how exactly is the pope to "penalize" those scandalous bishops who, apparently, have no problem remaining in their respective posts"

Read my lips:




He ordains them bishops.  He approves their assignments.  He can fire their butts.  Now.

There is always need for missionaries to the remotest parts of the world.

Correction:  he APPROVES their being ordained bishops.

"he can't put on his Superman cape, a la Blessed JPIII and swoop across continents, firing bishops here, sentencing them to three years hard reflection there, staging events for the edification of the most outraged in our midst."

Actually, I think he can and has (Cardinal O'Brien a case in point).   You think the bishops can be trusted to police other bishops?  And who will go after the cardinals, like Law, Mahony, Brady, O'Brien?  The most outraged in our communit = a majority of Catholics ... according to a Pew Forum survey, most Catholics listed the sex abuse problem as the biggest problem facing the church.

A CEO runs a corporation through a group of direct reports who have to be trusted to do what the management and board of directors have agreed is necessary to accomplish the organization’s mission.

Normally a good CEO allows that to happen by giving individual and collective continuous guidance to the DRs as to whether they are on track or not.

However, if a situation arises that threatens to destroy the credibility of the organization a good CEO sometimes has to take unilateral action to prevent or stop the situation before it gets worse in the eyes of the public and customers.

It’s best to let the DRs handle matters but not if their foot-dragging causes undue or even irreparable harm to the overall goal.

Francis IS the CEO of Roman Catholicism, Inc.