Can Pope Francis summon the necessary courage?

 |  Young Voices

It wasn't until I took a course on Christian Scripture that I realized each Gospel tells a different tale of Jesus' crucifixion. Mark and Matthew mainly agree on what Jesus said, but Luke has Jesus saying something else. John's account doesn't agree with the others. But one thing upon which they all agree is that there was a man named Joseph who found his courage late in the game.

This man was Joseph of Arimathea. The Gospel accounts describe him differently, but we know he was likely a prominent person of means, and Mark's Gospel suggests he was a member of the Sanhedrin council that advocated for Jesus' death.

Joseph of Arimathea was also a disciple of Jesus. A quiet one, we are told, because he feared the consequences. After Jesus had been killed, this Joseph "gathered up courage" and asked Pilate for the body of Jesus (Mark 15:43).

Courage is something Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, the new pope, also seems to exude in these first few weeks in office. Courage to do things differently than his peers: to choose simplicity over vanity, humbleness rather than highness. Even today, Holy Thursday, he has left Vatican custom to wash the feet of youth in prison.

I keep wondering: Will he also have courage to care for the crucified children of our faith, the ones who have been sexually abused by Catholic religious leaders? The youth who were stripped of dignity, who have been ridiculed and considered "crazies" by Vatican officials?

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While Jorge may be washing the feet of youth today, he hasn't always cared for youth. Last week, The Washington Post reported that as cardinal of Buenos Aires, Argentina, he declined to meet with clergy sexual abuse survivors and offered no apologies or restitution. In fact, he has helped a convicted pedophile priest remain free and undisciplined.

Meanwhile, Catholics know there is more to caring for youth than just washing feet. Catholics in Brownsville, Texas, are calling on the bishop this week to release the names of the credibly accused pedophile priests and religious leaders. In Illinois, Catholics are working to eliminate the statute of limitations so sex abuse survivors finally have their chance at justice. In New York next month, Catholics are holding an event to raise money for SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, which is under legal attack by dioceses to release confidential survivor files.

These Catholics are not alone in caring about youth. According to a poll last week, Catholics across the United States want the new pope to address the sexual abuse crisis more than any other issue in his papacy.  

It's true that every Gospel story has a different ending, and Jorge of Argentina has the potential to add his voice to this chapter in our church's history. Will he remain culpable for neglecting sexually abused youth or be part of the resurrection story for our faith's children? I pray he has the courage, like Joseph of Arimathea, to do what is right in the end.

[Nicole Sotelo is the author of Women Healing from Abuse: Meditations for Finding Peace, published by Paulist Press, and coordinates A graduate of Harvard Divinity School, she currently works at Call To Action.]

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June 16-29, 2017