On August 14, Pennsylvania’s Grand Jury released its statewide investigative report into sex abuse allegations by the Roman Catholic Church. Detailed in the 457-page document are over the confessions of 1,000 confirmed sexual abuse victims by more than 300 priests. While it has been widely known for decades that there is systemic abuse by Catholic church officials, this has been one of the most significant steps taken to address claims and bring legal repercussions to abusers those involved. As the Vatican grapples with how to deal with another set of accusations, infighting has made the situation worse- shaking the institution to its core.
Six days after the report was released, Pope Francis put forth a 2,000-word letter to the public in which he strongly condemns the actions of the priest as “morally and criminally reprehensible.” He additionally mentions that there will be the implementation of a zero-tolerance policy with reference to the abuse of minors- a policy that clearly had not been in place previously.
Additionally, the Pope attempts to apologize and take responsibility for the actions saying that “we showed no care for the little ones, we abandoned them.” Among apologies, the Pope uses biblical verse to demonstrate his point, as well as calling for the unification of the Catholic church in order to fight these systemic abuses.
Anne Barret Doyle, co-director of BishopAccountability.org, accused the Popes letter of being “recycled rhetoric” and “a disappointment.” More critics from around the world also claim the letter of being too little too late. Also highlighted is the lack of concrete steps that will be taken by the church in order to prevent further abuse.
Again, Doyle criticizes the letter saying “mere words at this point deepen the insult and the pain.”
Abuse by officials in the Catholic church is not anything new. This has clearly been happening for quite a while since some of the reported cases date back to seventy years ago. The apologies always come but change has yet to be put into action.
Even with flowery quotes by Pope Francis, like “no effort must be spared to create a culture able to prevent such situation from happening, but also to prevent the possibility of their being covered up and perpetuated.” These hold no meaning without specific steps being outlined and taken to back them up.
The delayed response and lack of proposed correction by Pope Francis calls into the question how genuine the apology is. Even with our hopes that his response is heartfelt, the significance of it still is uncertain. The Church does not seem to have put in the effort for reform since abuse allegations have started. At this point, it can be expected that things will remain the same after the attention blows over.
On top of this, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò has accused Pope Francis and his predecessors of being aware of the abuses years before they were made public. Viganò claims that the previous Pope, Benedict XVI, ordered, now convicted child abuser, Cardinal McCarrick to “withdraw to a life of prayer and penance”. He asserts that Pope Francis knowing this still empowered him by allowing him to assign American bishops. It is important, however, to keep in mind several things. The first is the complete lack of evidence presented by Viganò. The second is the extensive and highly controversial past of Carlo Mario Viganò.
Once the chief diplomat for the Vatican in the United States, Carlo Mario Viganò has been iced out by Pope Francis after a series of incidents that brought bad publicity to the Pope and the Vatican itself. One occasion included Viganò inviting a Kentucky county clerk who refused to sign marriage licenses for gay couples to an event in which the Pope was supposed to meet a homosexual bishop. The bad publicity the Pope received for being seen with the clerk led to the demotion of Viganò who has since aligned himself with a conservative traditionalist group inside the Vatican that seeks to remove Pope Francis.
Another aspect to be kept in mind is Viganò’s potential motivations. Viganò purposely timed the release of his letter to coincide with the trip Pope Francis made to Ireland, in which he planned to address abuse issues in the area. Possibly the most driving force in the mind of Viganò is his homophobic agenda.
Viganò is a hardcore traditionalist who believes that in recent years, homosexuals inside the church have made efforts to corrupt the church and to advance the gay agenda. Also mentioned in the letter is his belief that the cause of the abuse crisis is homosexuals. It is no secret that Pope Francis is making moves to liberalize and modernize the church.
While it is clear whether Carlo Mario Viganò had ulterior motives for the publication of the letter, what is more concerning is that part of his claims are backed up by a recent interview with the Pennsylvania Attorney General. In the interview, the Attorney General confirms that the Vatican knew of the cover-ups of the sex abuse scandals, going on to describe situations in which the church would “document all the abuse in secret archives that they would share oftentimes with the Vatican.” Even though Viganò released the letter with the intent to damage the Pope explicitly, his claims are partially correct.
As more reports emerge, disunity in the Vatican continues to grow. Disputes over how to address the scandals have made the situation all the more volatile. With distractions inside the church, it is hard to believe that any organized effort to aid the victims and their families will ever materialize.