One of the world's oldest and largest support groups for survivors of clergy-perpetrated sexual abuse today blasted the pope after he commented that US bishops showed "courage" in handling a string of Catholic Church abuse scandals over decades, while failing to apologize to victims on behalf of the church.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), which has about 20,000 members, criticized Pope Francis over his choice of words, particularly the "great sacrifice" he said bishops have made in facing "difficult moments in the recent history of the church in this country without fear of self-criticism and at the cost of mortification."
"[The pope's] remarks today confirm what we've long said and suspected: this pope, like his predecessors, is doing and will do little if anything to bring real reform to this continuing crisis," SNAP said in a statement Wednesday after the pope delivered his speech in Washington DC. "Those who care about kids must focus on secular authorities, not church figures, however popular they may be."
In March, a new report released by BishopAccountability.org raised troubling questions about Pope Francis' complicity in the sexual abuse scandal that has plagued the Catholic Church for more than a decade.
The report, titled "Pope Francis and Clergy Sexual Abuse in Argentina," focuses on the pope's stint as archbishop of Buenos Aires from 1998 to 2013, and includes a database with links to public documents and media reports about 42 priests in Argentina previously accused of sexual misconduct. Specifically, the report focuses on five cases of sexual abuse by priests in which it alleges that the then archbishop "knowingly or unwittingly slowed victims in their fight to expose and prosecute their assailants."
Although Francis has been outspoken on a litany of other issues, he has remained surprisingly silent on the topic of clergy sexual abuse. In his 2010 book, On Heaven and Earth, the future pope claimed his priests never misbehaved during his tenure as archbishop of Buenos Aires.
"In my diocese it never happened to me," he wrote. "But a bishop called me once by phone to ask me what to do in a situation like this and I told him to take away the priest's faculties, not to permit him to exercise his priestly ministry again, and to initiate a canonical trial."
The report does not directly link the pope to sexual abuse in Argentina. Instead, it details cases where it appears as though he either failed to take strong, decisive action against accused priests, or helped to temporarily shield them from prosecution or incarceration.
BishopAccountability.org has previously estimated that there have been at least 17,200 victims of sex abuse by clergy in America.
On Wednesday, Pope Francis reiterated that church officials are working "to ensure that such crimes will never be repeated."
But SNAP said the remarks were "disingenuous" and that "such crimes are happening right now, all across the world."
"We're deeply disappointed that Francis refuses to tell bishops to do a single thing more than they've been forced to do by courageous victims, angry Catholics, determined law enforcement, and the church's own insurers, defense lawyers and public relations experts," the statement added.
The group also took exception to the pope's commendation of bishops who were prepared to sell church property and assets to financially redress the victims of abuse. The church paid close to $1.7 billion to sex abuse survivors in legal settlements between 2004 and 2013, according to a report released last year by the US Conference on Catholic Bishops.
"I realize how much the pain of recent years has weighed upon you and I have supported your generous commitment to bring healing to victims – in the knowledge that in healing we too are healed – and to work to ensure that such crimes will never be repeated," the pope told the Bishops Wednesday.
"I have no wish to tell you what to do, because we all know what it is that the Lord asks of us," he added.
In response, SNAP said the pope is "half right."
"Bishops do indeed know precisely how to protect kids," the group said. "But they refuse, like Francis himself does, to take the simple, proven steps to do this."
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