On Friday April 11, shortly before the beginning of Holy Week, Pope Francis did what no Pope before him has ever done and took personal responsibility for the pedophile priests that have plagued the Catholic Church.
In remarks made at his library in the Vatican to members of a Catholic nongovernmental organization, the International Catholic Child Bureau, the Pope for forgiveness and pledged to impose penalties on “men of the church” who have harmed children.
The Pope’s comments are a positive step, but how much change in the church will they really bring? His words mean little to the children who are still being abused by priests around the world. If the Pope is sincere about wanting to end the epidemic of sexual abuse by priests he needs to take immediate action. The Vatican still refuses to open its archives and release records on abusive priests. The Vatican still refuses to fully expose the Bishops who sheltered abusive priests from prosecution and are thereby complicit in the abuse.
Since becoming Pope Francis has been lauded for his actions on fighting abuse – these comments, the creation of a committee to advise the church on how to protect children – but he has not taken one concrete step that has resulted in protecting children or exposing predators. Meanwhile the plague continues and the children abused by priests in recent cases uncovered in Puerto Rico, New Jersey and Milwaukee are unlikely to find much comfort in the Pope’s comments.
Critics note that Francis’ approach to dealing with the abuse scandal is evolving, but the church doesn’t need evolution, it needs action. Lest anyone forget that since becoming Pope, he has refused to meet with abuse victims, been roundly criticized for his inaction by the United Nations, and last month complained to an Italian newspaper that the church has been unfairly attacked for its response to sexual abuse cases.
By simply asking for forgiveness Pope Francis is doing more than his predecessors, but it is still not enough. The church needs to take action and open records, identify abusive priests and complicit bishops. Children don’t need forgiveness, they need to be protected.