“Forgive Me”—Father

Sara Miller Llana contextualizes Pope Francis’s meetings with victims of clerical sex abuse yesterday, during which he begged their forgiveness for the church’s failure to protect them or respond to reports of abuse:

It’s taken almost a year and a half for him to meet with victims themselves, compared to his predecessor Pope Benedict, who was much less popular but met with victims on many trips around the world. This meeting – with victims from Ireland, Britain, and Pope Francis Attends Celebration Of The Lord's Passion in the Vatican BasilicaGermany – has also come under fire from victims’ groups in his native Argentina, who were excluded from this first encounter. And he raised a storm of criticism this year when he defended the church’s actions in general in the scandal. “The Catholic Church is maybe the only institution to have moved with transparency and responsibility,” Francis said. “No one else has done more. Yet the church is the only one to be attacked.” This is the first time a pope has received victims inside the Vatican.

Despite the criticism, Marco Politi, a veteran Vatican observer in Rome and author of the new book “Francis Among the Wolves,” says he believes the pope is continuing the work of his predecessor and forging a new, structural response. He created a commission on sexual abuse, which includes women as well as a former victim, and has taken action to back up his stated goal of zero tolerance. Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, a Polish bishop recalled from the Dominican Republic last September on claims of sexual abuse, was recently defrocked.

The apology isn’t cutting it for some survivor-activists, who claim the pope isn’t doing enough to protect kids:

 Even though [Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP)], now 25 years old, is the most widely recognized global support group for clerical victims with more than 18,000 members, no one from their leadership was invited to meet with Francis. Ahead of the meeting [SNAP outreach director Barbara] Blaine, who was raped by her parish priest as a teenager, posed a number of topics she would like to discuss with Francis, if only she were given a chance.  First, she says she would like to tell the pope, “Stop talking about the crisis as though it’s past tense, and stop delaying while your abuse panels discusses details. You know the right thing to do. You don’t need a report.”

She said she would also tell the pope to focus first on prevention, instead of forgiveness.  “Wounded adults can heal themselves but vulnerable kids can’t protect themselves,” she says, noting that abuse and sex abuse and the consistent cover up by the Vatican is still ongoing.  She also suggests that the Holy See take “tangible steps to safeguard those at risk” by doing a number of what would seem like fairly simple steps, that are acceptable responses in the secular community when it comes to battling pedophilia, sex abuse, and child rape.

Dreher is on the same page:

Pope Benedict XVI was better. He defrocked 400 abuser priests, and worked harder than John Paul II to clean up the mess. But he never removed a bishop who facilitated abuse in his role as administrator — not even Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City, the first American bishop ever convicted in the scandal (Finn, who in 2010 covered up for and shuffled around a priest who had child porn in his computer, was found guilty of not reporting the child porn to authorities.) And now Francis. Nice words, but until bishops are held accountable, they will only be words. By now, 12 years after Boston, papal statements absent actual papal governance count for nothing. We’ll know Francis is serious when bishops like Finn start losing their mitres.

I’m with Rod on this. It should never have taken this long to meet with survivors of abuse, or to hold bishops accountable for protecting child-abusers. On this subject, Francis could have provided a powerful symbolic moment of accountability and renewal – as he did in so many areas in his first year as Pope. But for some reason, he didn’t. It pains me.