Skip to main content

Pope's apology on sex abuse still doesn't cut it

By Heidi Schlumpf
updated 2:23 PM EDT, Mon July 7, 2014
Pope Francis speaks during the feast-day Mass on a one-day trip to the Calabrian region of Italy on Saturday, June 21. The Pope spoke out against the Mafia's "adoration of evil and contempt for the common good," and declared that "mafiosi are excommunicated, not in communion with God.' Pope Francis speaks during the feast-day Mass on a one-day trip to the Calabrian region of Italy on Saturday, June 21. The Pope spoke out against the Mafia's "adoration of evil and contempt for the common good," and declared that "mafiosi are excommunicated, not in communion with God.'
HIDE CAPTION
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Heidi Schlumpf: Pope Francis met with victims of clergy sexual abuse, begged forgiveness
  • She says apology good, but he must do more to make amends with victims, all Catholics
  • She says Vatican steps positive; Pope should remove Kansas City bishop who covered up
  • Schlumpf: Victims' groups want more action; if they can forgive, they are ones to be commended

Editor's note: Heidi Schlumpf is a columnist for the National Catholic Reporter and teaches communication at Aurora University. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- After meeting Monday with six victims of sexual abuse by clergy members, Pope Francis apologized for the crimes committed against them and begged forgiveness "for the sins of omission on the part of church leaders who did not respond adequately to reports of abuse."

Apologies are all well and good, but this one brings to mind two trite but true sayings: "Too little, too late" and "Actions speak louder than words." Unfortunately, Francis has more to do so that future popes won't have to keep saying "I'm sorry" for these crimes and the Catholic Church's cover-up.

Heidi Schlumpf
Heidi Schlumpf

This is not to downplay the important symbolism of public apologies from the church's top leader. Indeed, Francis seems sincere and acknowledges the complicity of the institutional church in the cover-up, not just the actions of individual men.

But Francis is not the first pope to meet with sex abuse victims or even the first to offer an official apology for what has to be one of the gravest evils in the church. His predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, met on several occasions with victims, including during a trip to the United States. After one such meeting, he also issued a formal apology, saying he was "deeply sorry for the pain and suffering the victims have endured."

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



In comparison, Francis' apology, given during a lengthy homily, was more extensive, emphasizing the psychological and spiritual pain victims have endured and noting that these "despicable actions" had been "camouflaged with a complicity that cannot be explained."

It also was better than his, "Yes, but ..." apology earlier this year, when he mentioned that abusers were "quite a few in number, though not compared to the total number" of priests, after earlier complaining about how the church had been unfairly singled out for the problem of sexual abuse of minors.

Given the enormity of this problem facing the Catholic Church, however, victims' rights groups are correct in expressing disappointment with how long it took for the new Pope to meet with them (16 months into his pontificate). In March, editors of the National Catholic Reporter, which has been covering sex abuse by clergy for nearly three decades, implored the Pope in an open letter to make meeting with victims a priority.

Pope to meet with sex abuse victims
Pope Francis takes on the Italian mob
Pope Francis says no to legal pot
The pope's balancing act

As someone who clearly understands the significance of his actions -- everything from his choice of attire to whose feet he washes on Holy Thursday -- Francis should have met with victims much sooner than this.

Still, Monday's apology seems to be part of more significant movements in the Vatican, including the naming of a victim to a new panel to address sex abuse and the recent defrocking of a Polish archbishop and papal ambassador accused of paying for sex with minors.

But there is much more to be done, starting with the removal of Kansas City-St. Joseph Bishop Robert Finn, who has been found guilty of failing to report suspicions of child abuse to police or state child welfare authorities. The diocese has recently been ordered to pay $1.1 million for violating terms of an earlier contract of reparations.

Of course, a good apology includes not only acknowledgment of personal and/or corporate responsibility for the victim's pain, but also a promise to fix things, or at least to not continue to inflict that pain. The church is finally, after decades of denying or minimizing victims' pain, accepting responsibility. But we're not yet there on fixing things.

That's why victims' rights groups are understandably frustrated by the molasses-like pace of the church on this issue. Barbara Blaine, president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, applauded the courage of the victims who met with Francis on Monday but complained about the need for more decisive action.

"The Pope says the church should 'make reparations' to victims. That's secondary. Stopping abuse and protecting children comes first. And sadly, no child on earth is safer today because of this meeting," she wrote in a statement.

Here's another saying: "To err is human; to forgive, divine." If that's true, it will be the victims who will be the real saints, not the apologizers.

Read CNNOpinion's new Flipboard magazine.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:59 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
You could be forgiven for thinking no one cares -- or even should care, right now -- about climate change, writes CNN's John Sutter. But you'd be mistaken.
updated 5:32 PM EDT, Sun September 21, 2014
David Gergen says the White House's war against ISIS is getting off to a rough start and needs to be set right
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
John Sutter boarded a leaky oyster boat in Connecticut with a captain who can't swim as he set off to get world leaders to act on climate change
updated 3:17 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says making rude use of the Mexican flag on Mexican independence day in a concert in Mexico was extremely tasteless, but not an international incident.
updated 9:59 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Michael Dunn is going to stand trial again after a jury was unable to reach a verdict; Mark O'Mara hopes for a fair trial.
updated 7:15 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Is ballet dying? CNN spoke with Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, about the future of the art form.
updated 5:47 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Sally Kohn says it's time we take climate change as seriously as we do warfare in the Middle East
updated 3:27 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Laurence Steinberg says the high obesity rate among young children is worrisome for a host of reasons
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says an Oklahoma state representative's hateful remarks were rightfully condemned by religious leaders..
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
No matter how much planning has gone into U.S. military plans to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Arab public isn't convinced that anything will change, says Geneive Abdo
updated 11:44 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
President Obama's strategy for destroying ISIS seems to depend on a volley of air strikes. That won't be enough, says Haider Mullick.
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Paul Begala says Hillary Clinton has plenty of good reasons not to jump into the 2016 race now
updated 11:01 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Scotland decided to trust its 16-year-olds to vote in the biggest question in its history. Americans, in contrast, don't even trust theirs to help pick the county sheriff. Who's right?
updated 9:57 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
updated 11:47 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Frida Ghitis says the foiled Australian plot shows ISIS is working diligently to taunt the U.S. and its allies.
updated 3:58 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Young U.S. voters by and large just do not see the midterm elections offering legitimate choices because, in their eyes, Congress has proven to be largely ineffectual, and worse uncaring, argues John Della Volpe
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
updated 10:27 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
updated 10:48 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
updated 7:15 PM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
updated 8:34 PM EDT, Wed September 17, 2014
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
updated 9:05 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT