Francis falters in addressing sex abuse

This story appears in the Francis in the United States feature series. View the full series.

by Dennis Coday

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Let me make just one short observation, about an obviously heartfelt, multifaceted address by Pope Francis to the U.S. bishops. There are many things to compliment and tease out of this speech over coming days. There was, however, one glaring oversight that will draw criticism.

Francis made one (Vatican correspondent Josh McElwee called it “oblique”) reference to the clergy sexual abuse crisis. Here is the entire paragraph:

I am also conscious of the courage with which you have faced difficult moments in the recent history of the Church in this country without fear of self-criticism and at the cost of mortification and great sacrifice. Nor have you been afraid to divest whatever is unessential in order to regain the authority and trust which is demanded of ministers of Christ and rightly expected by the faithful. 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.

This was followed by loud applause. Given the audience, I guess that's not surprising, but it was sadly disappointing.

I have to wonder where is the forthrightness we have come to expect of Pope Francis. At the very least he could have used the words “clergy sexual abuse of minors.” This oblique reference will do nothing to assuage the fears of victims’ advocates who believe Francis is more public relations manager than crisis manager when it comes to sexual abuse.

Praising the bishops for the courage they have shown before acknowledging the pain of the victims, will undoubtedly raise the charges of “he just doesn’t get it.”

Since his election as pope, NCR has both challenged Francis to do more for the sex abuse crisis and encouraged the moves he has made. But the message he delivered today puts him back to square one.

Unconfirmed rumors persist that Francis will meet with victims of clergy abuse at some point during this trip. At this point, one meeting with a few victims will not suffice. Francis will need to show some deliberate, dramatic action to prove that he understands the gravity of this problem.

After he shows he understands it, he will then have to prove that he will do something about it.

[Dennis Coday is NCR editor.]

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