Pope Fran­cis opens his eyes

The Phnom Penh Post - - OPINION -

THE world has heard it again and again – heart­felt, ring­ing pledges by Pope Fran­cis and his pre­de­ces­sors that the Vat­i­can, at long last, has got­ten the mes­sage on the global epi­demic of cler­i­cal sex abuse. These of­ten have been fol­lowed by half-mea­sures, equiv­o­ca­tions, in­er­tia and even out­right con­tempt for ac­cusers, who in most cases were vic­timised as chil­dren.

Now, five years into his pa­pacy, there are signs, at last, that Pope Fran­cis is start­ing to get it.

In an ex­tra­or­di­nary move, he sum­moned all 34 of Chile’s bish­ops to the Vat­i­can last month for an emer­gency sum­mit and dress­ing-down, ac­cus­ing them of col­lec­tive re­spon­si­bil­ity for sys­tem­at­i­cally ig­nor­ing and cov­er­ing up for pe­dophile priests over decades. The pon­tiff in­cluded him­self in the prob­lem – “me first of all”, he wrote to the bish­ops – hav­ing in Jan­uary sum­mar­ily dis­missed as “slan­der” cred­i­ble ac­cu­sa­tions that a Chilean bishop, Juan Bar­ros, whom he ap­pointed in 2015 de­spite warn­ings by other prel- ates, was com­plicit in mis­deeds by a no­to­ri­ous abu­sive priest.

Upon the con­clu­sion of the three-day ses­sion, ev­ery one of the Chilean bish­ops of­fered to re­sign – an un­prece­dented ges­ture. Then, on Mon­day, the Vat­i­can an­nounced the pope had ac­cepted the res­ig­na­tion of Bar­ros and two other bish­ops; an of­fi­cial de­scribed it as a first step in re­order­ing the Chilean church.

In the past, res­o­lute deeds have sel­dom fol­lowed the pope’s prom­ises to hold se­nior church fig­ures ac­count­able for tol­er­at­ing and en­abling abuse. This time, the pope seems to un­der­stand that is not an op­tion. The shake-up in the Chilean church would send a mes­sage to the hi­er­ar­chy around the world.

The pope was moved by a 2,300-page re­port by two Vat­i­can in­ves­ti­ga­tors, based on scores of in­ter­views with vic­tims of Chilean cler­ics. The re­port, which he com­mis­sioned, prompted his turn­around and an in­vi­ta­tion to the Vat­i­can for three prom­i­nent Chilean abuse vic­tims whose ac­counts had been at­tacked and min­imised by sen- ior cler­ics for years. Meet­ing with them last month, Pope Fran­cis apol­o­gised, ac­knowl­edg­ing to one of the vic­tims, Juan Car­los Cruz, that as pope he had been “part of the prob­lem”.

That is plainly true. The pope es­tab­lished a tri­bunal to hold to ac­count neg­li­gent and com­plicit bish­ops, then let it lapse with­out ac­tion – but later re­in­stated it. He sent the wrong mes­sage by dis­ci­plin­ing abu­sive priests with a slap on the wrist. He has yet to re­nounce Car­di­nal Ge­orge Pell, the Vat­i­can’s fi­nance chief and third-rank­ing of­fi­cial, now on a leave of ab­sence, who faces trial on sex-abuse charges in his na­tive Aus­tralia.

It has taken too long for the pope to look un­blink­ingly at the in­sti­tu­tional fail­ing that has cre­ated a cri­sis of con­fi­dence for so many of the church’s 1.3 bil­lion ad­her­ents. Now, hav­ing ad­mit­ted to per­sonal “grave er­rors”, he looks to be on the verge of fol­low­ing through in Chile and pos­si­bly set­ting a new course for both his pa­pacy and the Catholic Church.


Pope Fran­cis salutes faith­fuls as he ar­rives for his weekly gen­eral au­di­ence at Saint Peter’s square on Wed­nes­day in Vat­i­can City.

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