Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò’s 11 pages of accusations against Pope Francis and other church leaders have weaponized the church’s sexual abuse crisis, shifting the focus from listening to survivors to Vatican intrigues. Yet these new accusations amount to more of the same problem the church already had: priests, bishops and popes who, when they learned of abuse, protected each other rather than the victims.
The recommendations we made when the McCarrick case was first revealed, in July, and after the Pennsylvania grand jury report was released, in August, still stand: The church must prioritize listening to survivors of abuse and seeking justice for them. Clear public mechanisms to report abuse and misconduct and to discipline bishops who fail in their duties must be established. The church must undertake a comprehensive, transparent accounting of its tragic failures over the past decades and conduct and cooperate with any necessary investigations.
To achieve true reform, Pope Francis must give this crisis his full focus. His letter to the church and his statements in Ireland are a start, but he must follow through and make them concrete. Francis’ refusal to respond to the Viganò accusations may be an attempt to stay above the fray rather than dignify a venomous ideological attack. Nonetheless, the pope’s refusal is an insufficient pastoral response for a church that is deeply wounded. The best way for Pope Francis to respond to the attempt to use the sexual abuse crisis as a weapon in the culture war is to be honest and humble himself, as he ultimately was in his response to abuse survivors in Chile, and to lead the church in caring for those who are hurting the most.