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The Pope and the Abusers: Francis’ Achilles Heel

Jim Bowman 22 October 2018 No Comment

It’s a problem that’s never been high on his agenda.

“He’s been ambivalent, muddled on sex abuse. It’s not been at the top of his priority list, ever,” said Paul Vallely, a British journalist and author of Pope Francis: The Struggle for the Soul of Catholicism, a biography.

Consider Chile.

Nowhere has the pope tripped more than in Chile, which once had one of the highest percentages of Catholics in Latin America. Allegations there involve 167 Catholic officials and 178 victims so far. Prosecutors recently raided church buildings, seized documents and arrested a prominent priest, putting the abuse scandal front and center in the pope’s native region.


“The future of the church is in play here,” said Juan Pablo Hermosilla, a Santiago lawyer who represents sex-abuse victims. “What is happening in Chile is very important for the region, and what happens in Latin America is going to be very important for the church.”

Indeed, “Chile is for the first time no longer a majority-Catholic nation.”

It’s not his fault, say some.

Defenders of Pope Francis say criticism of him is unfair because most of the cases now coming to light happened long ago. Some say the abuse scandal has been exploited by people who oppose the pope’s calls for expansive immigration policies, his warnings about economic inequality and global warming as well as his leniency on divorce.

But he has a checkered history.

Since 2001, church law has required bishops to inform the Vatican about any report of sex abuse of a minor “which has at least a semblance of truth.” As archbishop of Buenos Aires from 1998 to 2013, [however] the future pope referred just two cases to the Vatican, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The Chile scene:

Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, a top papal adviser with a strong record on combating sex abuse in the U.S., publicly rebuked the pope for causing pain to abuse victims by dismissing their claims. The pope apologized but repeated the charge of slander on his flight back to Rome

He has a history of fudging or forgetting in these matters:

The pope also said the Chilean accusers had never approached him with their abuse complaints. Two weeks later, it was revealed that Cardinal O’Malley had given the pope a detailed letter from one victim more than two years earlier.

The Marists, who also have a Chicago base, made a big splash, more a swamp, in Chile.

The criminal investigation in Chile has rocked the nation’s chapter of the Marists, a Catholic religious order that runs 12 schools there. Victims accuse church officials at some of the schools of preying on boys over decades.

“A system of impunity”: A phrase to remember.

“There was a system of impunity that allowed this to happen,” said Emiliano Arias, a prosecutor who led a raid on church offices in four cities in September. “I’m certain there are more cases.”

The ancient-history rebuttal won’t wash:

Eneas Espinoza said he was abused in the 1970s at the Alonso de Ercilla Institute, a Marist-run school in downtown Santiago. Prosecutor Raúl Guzmán has identified 26 suspects and 40 victims in cases dating from 1968 to 2016.

Ugly stuff:

Mr. Espinoza, 45 years old, recalled his school as hell. A Marist brother from Spain would take him out of class and sexually abuse him, Mr. Espinoza said. Afterward, the brother would instruct the 6-year-old boy to brush his teeth.

As an adult, Mr. Espinoza said, he associated brushing with abuse and avoided it, eventually losing most of his teeth.

A-OK today?

A representative for Chile’s branch of the Marist order said the schools now have policies to prevent abuse and were “absolutely safe” for children.

The system is abolished? Good for them if that is so. Like at the Vatican? Prognosis was not good as regards to the new pope. Considering for his record (again) . . .

When victims of abuse went public in Argentina, he refused to meet them. In 2006, as head of the Argentine bishops conference, he denounced what he called a media campaign against the Rev. Julio Grassi, founder of a well-known orphanage who was accused of abusing children under his care. Father Grassi was eventually sentenced to 15 years in prison, a verdict upheld last year by Argentina’s highest court.

Blind spot there? Meanwhile, in Rome, something had to be done:

In March 2014, the pope established an advisory panel on child protection, at the urging of Cardinal O’Malley of Boston. The panel included two prominent abuse victims-turned-advocates, which raised hopes of greater influence from laypeople. The panel proposed a special tribunal for trying bishops accused of covering up or neglecting abuse by priests.

The pope accepted the recommendation and the Vatican announced [his] decision in 2015.

It didn’t happen.

The tribunal wasn’t set up. Instead, the pope amended church law the following year to specify that bishops’ negligence in abuse cases was grounds for dismissal.

With foreseeable results.

The pope’s change of mind was a disappointment for Marie Collins, a well-known victim of clerical sex abuse who served on the advisory panel. She resigned last year, complaining of Vatican inaction, and was joined by Peter Saunders, the other panel member who had been an abuse victim.

Pattern here, where bishops, including in this the bishop of Rome, prove hard to work with and frustrating to lay people. The aftermath of this instance? Pope says he and one of the lay people met and . . .

The pope told reporters he had spoken with Ms. Collins and heard her concerns. Ms. Collins said they had no such conversation. (emphasis added)

And her vote of no confidence:

“He has done nothing really to give confidence back to people that the church has a grip on this issue,” Ms. Collins said. “He’s made these statements about zero tolerance and then not operated zero tolerance.”

It’s a pattern, yes.

via: Pope Francis’ Handling of Sex-Abuse Cases Fractures a Catholic Stronghold-

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