Critics: Pope must do more to address sex abuse scandal

Advocacy groups call for further action as Pope Francis arrives stateside.

If ever there was a Vatican rock star, it’s Pope Francis. The people’s Pope has made significant headway in reforming the Catholic Church, an institution that is understandably resistant to change (their CEO is pretty set in His ways). Despite heading a Church with a long history of social conservatism, Francis has managed to shake things up in a number of ways: He’s declared that Catholic beliefs are consistent with evolution, he’s recognized climate change as a real threat, and he’s adopted a decidedly more liberal view of homosexuality.

But some people say he still hasn’t adequately addressed the dark cloud that’s hung over the Catholic Church for years, and many advocates are using his six-day, three-city tour of the United States as a chance to speak out.

Although he will take on climate change, capitalism, the European refugee crisis and mass incarceration, Francis is not slated to speak publicly on sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. Here’s why that’s seen by some as a problem: According to data collected by John Jay College, 5.9 percent of priests have been accused of sexual assault between 1950 and 2013. In 2002, The Dallas Morning News reported that two-thirds of sitting bishops enabled abuse by allowing accused priests to continue working.

Much of this data predates Francis’ papacy. Certainly, he stepped into a church which allowed years of systematic abuse from some leaders without any recourse. So when Francis pledged a “zero tolerance” policy against sexual abuse in the church in February, abuse survivors hoped that he would finally guide the Catholic Church into a new era.

“Families need to know that the Church is making every effort to protect their children,” Francis wrote in a letter to bishops.

So how many clerics has Francis disciplined? How many bishops has he exposed? Not one. In fact, the only notable thing that Francis has done regarding sexual abuse is accepting the resignation of the archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis in June after he was pinpointed by an outside whistleblower.

And the Church is still spending millions on fighting sexual abuse lawsuits and keeping the names of accused clergy sealed. That’s hardly making good on his promise for action.

Sexual abuse survivor Joelle Casteix wants to counter the so-called “Francis effect,” or the idea that the Pope has become a radical symbol of change for the Church, igniting Catholics around the world.

The point that Casteix and other advocates want to drive home is that just because Francis has been willing to shake things up for a litany of issues, it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s doing the same for sexual abuse.

“Any time you talk to anyone about the cover-up scandal, they say, ‘Well, Francis is changing things,’” Casteix told The Orange County Register. “Not really.”

Casteix is teaming up with victim advocacy groups such as Bishop Accountability and Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests to plan protests during the papal parade across the East Coast. The groups hope that by scrutinizing the Pope despite his positive strides in other areas, they will shed light on the ongoing issue of sexual abuse.

“I think the time for lofty words has kind of passed,” Barbara Blaine, president of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests told The New York Times. Blaine added, “He’s going to be addressing the man-made problems that contribute to global warming and the destruction of the earth. What about the man-made problem of destroying the innocence and the lives of so many?”

To be fair, The New York Times reported that Francis will likely meet with survivors of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church privately. That’s a positive step. A bigger step would be publicly decrying the abuse scandal.

Francis isn’t just a rock star because he snagged a Rolling Stone cover. Pew Research Center reported in 2014 that 70 percent of Catholics and 56 percent of non-Catholics said the Pope represented a “major change in direction for the church”— an overwhelmingly positive one. In a separate report, Pew found that just after Pope Francis was elected in March 2013, 70 percent of Catholics said addressing the abuse scandal should be a top priority for Francis.

Climate change and battling capitalism, unsurprisingly, didn’t make the list.

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