Pope Francis has been no stranger to controversy during his five years leading the Roman Catholic Church.
The 81-year-old pontiff has been beloved by many progressives for his remarks about embracing refugees, the poor, gays and divorced people, as well as his blistering critiques of unfettered capitalism and warnings about environmental degradation.
Those positions have also earned him the scorn of many conservatives who fear Francis is more interested in playing to the media to promote a liberal agenda than upholding Catholic doctrine and tradition.
If there is one area in which supporters and detractors have expressed disappointment in the pontiff, it has been his perceived inadequate response to the sex abuse scandals that have rocked the church around the globe.
During a visit to Chile in January, Francis caused an uproar when he defended Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno, who had been accused of covering up the crimes of an abusive priest.
Francis later called for an investigation. In April, Francis apologized for “grave errors” made by the church in its handling of sex-abuse cases in Chile, and it seemed to signal a change in course by the pope.
The fallout didn’t stop there. Recent months have seen revelations around the world, including court appearances by an Australian cardinal in a child abuse case, the resignation of a Honduran bishop accused of seeking sexual favors from seminarians, rape allegations against a bishop in India, more cover-up allegations in Chile.
Last weekend, the American church was hit by a bombshell with the resignation of Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, former archbishop of Washington, D.C., over accusations that he molested a teen in the 1970s while serving as a priest in New York, just one of several allegations against him.
As Catholic news site Crux pointed out, it was the first time an American cardinal has ever renounced his red hat, and a signal that the pope’s “zero tolerance” stance is intended for everybody, even top Vatican officials.
In Pennsylvania, many can only hope this is true.
The public continues to await results of a lengthy probe into the handling of sexual abuse claims by six of the state’s eight Roman Catholic dioceses, including our own Scranton Diocese.
That’s because a group of unnamed people, apparently including some priests, have challenged its release, the Associated Press reports, arguing their constitutional rights to their reputations and to due process of law are being violated, based on not being able to address the grand jury whose deliberations produced the document.
No doubt there are many who fear what is in that report. It identifies more than 300 “predator priests” in the six dioceses, the state Supreme Court said Friday in ordering a redacted copy of the findings released.
Not only those priests, but those who may have sheltered them or lied for them must be trembling in their collars right about now.
The Diocese of Scranton, along with others, has said it wouldn’t stand in the way of the report’s release. Scranton Bishop Joseph Bambera in June even issued an apology to abuse victims and parishioners for “behaviors described in this report.”
Still, many are trying to stand in the way of transparency. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro has claimed at least two leaders of the Catholic Church have been trying to block the report’s release.
Shapiro has made repeated calls for full transparency regarding the report, both in court and in the court of public opinion.
Last week, however, he admirably took the issue one step further: Shapiro wrote a humble yet remarkably powerful letter to the pope.
Shapiro said he appreciated the pope’s public remarks and expressions of sorrow and remorse to victims of this abuse, noting that Francis stated that clergy and bishops will be held accountable when they fail to protect children, “and I admire that step,” Shapiro said.
The AG added that it’s his sincere hope Francis encourages other church leaders “to heed his words and abandon their destructive efforts to silence survivors.”
Our paper has editorialized to that effect, and I repeat the sentiment now.
It’s hard to imagine a right-thinking, justice-loving American disagreeing with Shapiro. It’s hard to imagine anyone with an ounce of empathy for the victims of sexual abuse disagreeing with Shapiro.
It is hard to imagine Pope Francis disagreeing with Shapiro if he is indeed as committed to rooting out this evil as he says.
As of Monday afternoon, Shapiro spokesman Joe Grace said there was no response yet from the Vatican.
Let us pray that justice be done in the end. It would be so much better for the church if its leader adds his voice to this chorus, either openly or by pressuring those attempting to suppress the truth to stand aside.