In response to the question above, asked on social media and in our email newsletter, America readers gave mostly lukewarm responses. Thirty-one percent of readers rated Pope Francis’ handling of sex abuse in the church as “somewhat positive,” while 30 percent of readers told us it was “somewhat negative.”
On the whole, respondents who answered either “very positive” (14 percent) or “somewhat positive” (31 percent) highlighted how Pope Francis is listening to victims of abuse. “Pope Francis has been a very heartfelt contributor to those families who are still suffering from the effects of sex abuse at the hands of clergy,” wrote Rylee Hartwell of Joplin, Mo.
Most of those in the “somewhat positive” camp expressed a desire for Pope Francis to do more to prevent and address sex abuse in the church. Chris Carroll of Philadelphia alluded to Pope Francis’ defense of Bishop Juan Barros, who has been accused of being present during instances of sex abuse by the notorious Chilean predator, the Rev. Fernando Karadima. “The pope has not gone as far as I would like,” said Mr. Carroll. “The church is still protecting some clergy.”
Most of those in the “somewhat positive” camp expressed a desire for Pope Francis to do more to prevent and address sex abuse in the church.
Respondents who rated Pope Francis’ handling of sex abuse in the church as “very negative” (15 percent) or “somewhat negative” (30 percent) were particularly critical of what they saw as the pope’s failure to hold members of the clergy accountable. These readers also criticized his efforts to prevent future abuse. John Bauer of Biloxi, Miss., described the pope’s leadership on this issue as “somewhat negative” in response to this question. “I love this pope,” Mr. Bauer wrote. “He is wonderful in all his teaching and pastoral care. But this area is a weak point.”
Kristen Balan-DiBella of Westfield, Ind., said that Pope Francis’ attempts to hold clergy accountable for sex abuse have been insufficient. “Pope Francis, through his decisions to keep Cardinal Bernard Law at the Vatican, including having his burial there, as well as his insistence on Bishop Barros’s innocence, shows a distinct lack of understanding of sex abuse,” said Ms. Balan-DiBella. “The percentage of false accusations is almost nil. The lifelong, far-reaching detrimental effects of sex abuse are widely known. The research is very clear that sex abuse (including those who are accessories) is a heinous crime. Nothing less than denouncing the acts and the abusers/accomplices will suffice.”