Pope: Bishops who mishandled abuse will be held accountable

Today Pope Francis met at the Vatican with six survivors of clerical sexual abuse and expressed his grief at what had been done to them. In his homily at Mass, which he celebrated in his residence, he went beyond deploring the actions of the abusers, as he has done in the past, and pledged to also hold accountable those who mishandled accusations of abuse.

Luke Coppen's report in the Catholic Herald includes the text of Francis's homily, in which he said:

I beg your forgiveness, too, for the sins of omission on the part of Church leaders who did not respond adequately to reports of abuse made by family members, as well as by abuse victims themselves. This led to even greater suffering on the part of those who were abused and it endangered other minors who were at risk.

On the other hand, the courage that you and others have shown by speaking up, by telling the truth, was a service of love, since for us it shed light on a terrible darkness in the life of the Church. There is no place in the Church’s ministry for those who commit these abuses, and I commit myself not to tolerate harm done to a minor by any individual, whether a cleric or not. All bishops must carry out their pastoral ministry with the utmost care in order to help foster the protection of minors, and they will be held accountable.

The homily is worth reading in full; it's not that long, but in it Francis touches on a lot of the dimensions of the sex-abuse scandal and its fallout that have so far been underacknowledged. His improved messaging is probably thanks to the influence of his Commission for the Protection of Minors -- which he refers to in the homily.

I am counting on the members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.... I ask this support so as to help me ensure that we develop better policies and procedures in the universal Church for the protection of minors and for the training of church personnel in implementing those policies and procedures. We need to do everything in our power to ensure that these sins have no place in the Church.

Gone is the defensiveness and complaining about the church being unfairly targeted. Here he speaks with a sense of how the scandal has damaged the church's credibility. He also touches on the theme of mercy that Cardinal O'Malley said was key to Francis's approach to this matter:

[P]lease pray for me, so that the eyes of my heart will always clearly see the path of merciful love, and that God will grant me the courage to persevere on this path for the good of all children and young people.

Will do.

Mollie Wilson O'Reilly is editor-at-large and columnist at Commonweal.

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