Pope Francis said that “the church irrevocably, and at all levels intends” to respond to the sexual abuse of minors with “zero tolerance,” in a meeting with members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors this morning, Sept. 21.
Putting aside his prepared text, Francis told the commission of 14 women and men from 13 countries that they had “a right” to know what he thought about the subject.
Having listened to abuse survivors and having made what he described as a mistake in approving a more lenient set of sanctions against an Italian priest abuser, the pope said he has decided whoever has been proven guilty of abuse has no right to an appeal, and he will never grant a papal pardon. “Whoever has been condemned for the sexual abuse of minors can appeal to the pope for a pardon,” he said, but “I have never signed one of these and I never will. I hope that is clear!
Whoever has been proven guilty of abuse has no right to an appeal, and he will never grant a papal pardon
"Why? Simply because the person who does this [sexually abuses minors] is sick. It is a sickness.”
“Today the person repents, he goes forward, we pardon him, but two years later he does the same,” the pope said. He acknowledged that “the church became aware of this too late” to realize the gravity of the problem and the church’s own responsibility in the matter. Referring to the past practice of moving priests around, and not facing the problem, he thanked God for sending “prophetic men and women” in the church who involved others and got the church to face the problem head-on. Acknowledging that there is a backlog of cases to be dealt with in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Francis said that more personnel would be assigned to this work.
The prepared text spoke of “the profound pain” that Francis feels in his soul “for the situation of abused children” and said, “the scandal of sexual abuse is a terrible ruin for the whole of humanity, which affects children, young people and vulnerable adults in all countries and in all societies.” For the church too, it is “a most painful experience” and “we feel shame for the abuses committed by sacred ministers.” The text referred to sexual abuse as “a horrible sin, completely opposed to, and in contradiction with what Christ and the church teaches us.”
Francis insisted that “the disciplinary means that the particular churches [in different countries] have adopted must be applied to all those who work in the institutions of the church.”
Francis also praised the commission, which over the past three years “has continually emphasized the most important principles that guide the efforts of the church to protect minors and vulnerable adults.” Expressing appreciation for the work being done by members of the commission, he singled out Cardinal Sean O’Malley and Marie Collins for their work.
The prepared text noted that Francis accepted the commission's proposal regarding responsibility in the church for the protection of minors, when he issued the motu proprio, “Like A Loving mother” in June 2016. That decree “addresses the cases of those diocesan bishops, Eparchs, and Major Superiors of Religious Institutes who through negligence committed or through omission facilitated acts that have caused grave harm to others, either to physical persons or to the community as a whole.”
The prepared text also mentioned a number of the commission’s proposals that have been implemented, including a Day of Prayer each year in local churches to dialogue with the victims and survivors and the fact that many bishops’ conferences have sought the commission’s advice regarding directives for the protection of minors and vulnerable adults. He praised the “valiant work” of the commission, especially for those churches with least resources.
The prepared speech concluded by expressing confidence that the commission would continue to be a place “where we can hear with interest the voices of the victims and the survivors because we have much to learn from them, from their personal histories of courage and perseverance.”
This story contains reporting from America’s Vatican correspondent, Gerard O’Connell, as well as the Catholic News Service.