During a press conference on the return flight from the Holy Land yesterday, Pope Francis did that thing he does: he made some news. The pope revealed that he would soon meet with abuse victims, promising to "move forward on this issue with zero tolerance"--and he announced that three bishops were "under investigation." One of them "has already been found guilty, and we are now considering the penalty to be imposed." He didn't name the bishops, nor did he elaborate on the details of their cases.
Naturally, the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests was not impressed. "Francis made three meaningless abuse comments today," according to Joelle Casteix, western regional director of SNAP. "None of them are significant in any way. All are disappointing because they amount to more public relations instead of real action." SNAP's executive director, David Clohessy, echoed that sentiment in his comment to the Boston Globe: “This means nothing,” he said. Francis's remarks are just “another savvy public-relations move that will protect no kids, expose no predators, prevent no cover-ups, and punish no enablers.’’
Really? I understand that SNAP must ritually denounce anything a bishop has to say about the sexual-abuse crisis. But isn't this what SNAP wants? To see bishops held accountable for their failures to protect kids from abusive clerics? Did Clohessy absorb what Francis actually said? The pope explained that three bishops are being investigated, that one of them has already been found guilty, and that the Vatican is figuring out what sort of punishment to mete out. This is anything but meaningless. Because, as everyone at SNAP knows, there aren't many bishops who have been convicted of a crime during this long scandal.
We've known for some time that Rome was investigating at least three bishops. Cardinal Keith O'Brien, formerly of Edinburgh, resigned in February 2013 following allegations that he'd had sexual relationships with priests. The Vatican announced that it was investigating him last month. Chilean auxiliary Bishop Cristian Contreras has been accused by other priests of abusing a fifteen-year-old. Vatican investigators have been dispatched to look into the matter. And Polish Archbishop Josef Wesolowski is also being investigated by the Vatican, after it was alleged that he had engaged the services of teenaged "rent boys." He's been recalled from his post as apostolic nuncio to the Dominican Republic apparently to stand trial as a citizen of the Holy See.
But none of those men have been "found guilty," as the pope put it (at least not yet). There haven't been many. In 2012 a Canadian bishop was convicted of importing child pornography. The Holy See swiftly laicized him (a terrifying punishment indeed). The only bishop I can think of who has been "found guilty" and gone unpunished is Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph. He was convicted of failing to report suspected child abuse. Is he the bishop Francis was referring to? Hard to say, because Francis didn't say what kind of guilt he was talking about--civil or canonical. Finn's spokesman says he doesn't know. But it sounds like he won't have to wait too long to find out.