Pope accused of cherry-picking abuse reforms

Pope Francis is cherry-picking abuse reforms aimed at protecting children from clerical sexual abuse says a survivors of clerical abuse network.

He has done little to seriously address the problem even though a year has passed since the summit where about 190 bishops and cardinals heard the testimony of victims, they say.

The Pope closed the four-day “abuse summit” last February promising the Church would “spare no effort” to bring to justice paedophile priests and the bishops who covered up their crimes.

Besides criticising Francis for apparently backing out of a commitment to a zero-tolerance approach to clerical abuse, survivors are also asking for the report about the Vatican’s investigation into former cardinal Theodore McCarrick to be published.

In the past year, zero tolerance has “dropped out of the pope’s lexicon,” said Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of the Bishops Accountability advocacy group.

“By that I mean ‘one strike and you’re out’ for abusers, at least out of the ministry, and ‘one strike and you’re out’ for enablers,” she added.

“I think zero tolerance is a pledge the pope is choosing not to make. I think he’s picking and choosing the changes he wants to make in the Church, and he’s chosen not to pursue that one,” Doyle said.

“I’m not so sure he was keen on doing it anyway.”

So what progress has been made since last February?

Three months after the summit: the Vatican established procedures for every diocese to report allegations of abuse and foster accountability for the actions of bishops and cardinals.

Eleven months after the summit: Francis announced the rule of “pontifical secrecy” would be abolished in an effort to improve transparency in sexual abuse cases.

Bishops Accountability found that 4,500 victims of clerical sexual abuse in France had come forward over the past year.

Public cases in Spain had surged by 50% thanks to media investigations.

In France, bishops agreed to compensate victims.

Although these steps have prompted changes in some Catholic countries, in others there has been no impact at all.

As an example, in Italy, the bishop of Prato, became the first bishop in the country to report alleged cases of clerical sexual abuse to the police.

But in both Spain and Italy, a “concordat” between the Vatican and the state means that bishops can refuse to testify in court.

“Looking at the dioceses, parishes and episcopal conferences in seven of the largest Catholic countries in the world, we’re finding mixed results,” Doyle said.

“But what they all have in common is a sobering verdict… it is still entirely possible today… for a bishop to knowingly keep an abuser in ministry or return him to ministry, and for neither one of them to suffer a consequence under canon law.”


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