Church re­al­ized pe­dophilia prob­lem ‘a bit late:’ pope

Truro Daily News - - WORLD - By ni­cole Winfield

Pope Fran­cis on Thurs­day ac­knowl­edged the Catholic Church was “a bit late” in re­al­iz­ing the dam­age done by pri­ests who rape and mo­lest chil­dren, and said the decades-long prac­tice of mov­ing pe­dophiles around rather than sanc­tion­ing them was to blame.

Fran­cis met Thurs­day for the first time with his sex abuse ad­vi­sory com­mis­sion, a group of out­side ex­perts named in 2014 to ad­vise him and the Catholic Church on best practices to keep pe­dophiles out of the priest­hood and pro­tect chil­dren.

In his pre­pared re­marks, Fran­cis promised to re­spond with the “firmest measures pos­si­ble” against sex abusers.

He said bish­ops and re­li­gious su­pe­ri­ors bore “pri­mary re­spon­si­bil­ity” for keeping their flocks safe from abu­sive pri­ests and would be held ac­count­able if they are neg­li­gent.

But Fran­cis also spoke off-the-cuff, ad­mit­ting the church’s re­sponse to the scan­dal was slow. In­deed, the Vat­i­can for decades turned a blind eye to the prob­lem and lo­cal bish­ops, rather than de­frock­ing abusers, in­stead moved them from parish to parish, al­low­ing them to abuse anew.

Part of the prob­lem was that

un­der the pa­pacy of St. John Paul II, the Vat­i­can was re­luc­tant to de­frock young pri­ests, even if they were abusers.

“The con­scious­ness of the church ar­rived a bit late, and when the con­scious­ness ar­rives late, the means to re­solve the

prob­lem ar­rive late,” Fran­cis said. “Per­haps the old prac­tice of mov­ing peo­ple around, and not con­fronting the prob­lem, kept con­sciences asleep.”

Fran­cis also ad­dressed the way the Vat­i­can was han­dling ap­peals of canon­i­cal sen­tences, say­ing he wanted to add more dioce­san bish­ops to an ap­peals com­mis­sion that is cur­rently dom­i­nated by canon lawyers. He said lawyers “tend to want to lower sen­tences” and that he wanted the in­flu­ence of dioce­san bish­ops with ex­pe­ri­ence of the prob­lem in the field to bal­ance it out.

“I de­cided to bal­ance out this com­mis­sion and also say that if abuse of a mi­nor is proven, it’s suf­fi­cient and there’s no need for re­course. If there is proof, pe­riod. It’s de­fin­i­tive. Why? Not be­cause of re­vul­sion, but sim­ply be­cause the per­son who did this, man or woman, is sick. It’s a sick­ness.”

In its three years, the sex abuse com­mis­sion has held ed­u­ca­tional work­shops in dio­ce­ses around the world, but has faced such stiff re­sis­tance to some of its pro­pos­als at the Vat­i­can that its most prom­i­nent mem­ber, Ir­ish abuse sur­vivor Marie Collins, re­signed in frus­tra­tion in March.

The com­mis­sion’s statutes and mem­ber­ship are up for re­view, and it re­mains to be seen if sur­vivors of abuse will be in­cluded in the new mem­ber­ship ros­ter.

Car­di­nal Sean O’Mal­ley, the arch­bishop of Bos­ton and head of the com­mis­sion, told the pope that the com­mis­sion had “ben­e­fited greatly” from lis­ten­ing to sur­vivors, but made no men­tion of whether any were un­der con­sid­er­a­tion for mem­ber­ship.

AP PHOTO

Pope Fran­cis sits dur­ing a meet­ing with mem­bers of the Ital­ian par­lia­men­tary An­ti­mafia Com­mis­sion dur­ing an au­di­ence in the Cle­men­tine Hall at the Vat­i­can.

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