Pope Francis’ letter following a report detailing sex abuse and coverups by Pennsylvania clergy has been met with generally positive response, but not everyone is willing to grant the pontiff absolution.
“More words. He said more words. He has not done anything,” said Judy Jones of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests during a Monday news conference in Pittsburgh. “He needs to fire bishops who cover up sex crimes. Until there is some kind of deterrent against doing this, it’s not going to change.
“(Catholic Church leaders) don’t do anything unless they’re forced into it from outside sources,” she told reporters.
Alleged abuse survivor Shaun Dougherty concurred during a Tuesday interview, saying that without action, Francis’ letter amounts to “words on a page.”
“It was nice to see the Pope finally recognize that these are crimes,” he said on CNN’s “New Day.” “We should’ve had this three or four popes ago.”
’We’ve rattled some cages’
Jim VanSickle, 55, who says he was abused by a priest when he was a teen, attended the SNAP news conference with Jones. He said he’s been delighted with the developments of the last week but that much remains to be done.
“We’re jubilant. We’re happy. We’re excited. Our truths have been told. People are hearing us,” he said. “You realize the Pope has spoke about Pennsylvania. We’ve rattled some cages. Now it’s up to them to make the changes that are necessary, to reach out to me as an ex-Catholic who can’t reconcile with his church until change is made – and (I’m) dying to do so.”
In his letter, Francis acknowledged a “culture of abuse” and said the church had abandoned its young members, and he called for zero tolerance toward sex abuse and accountability for the perpetrators. He lamented that the victims’ pain had been silenced.
“We have realized that these wounds never disappear and that they require us forcefully to condemn these atrocities and join forces in uprooting this culture of death; these wounds never go away,” the Pope wrote.
“It is essential that we, as a Church, be able to acknowledge and condemn, with sorrow and shame, the atrocities perpetrated by consecrated persons, clerics, and all those entrusted with the mission of watching over and caring for those most vulnerable.”
Can Francis effect core change?
Victim Patty McCormick, who wrote a weekend piece for The New York Times titled, “What Father Bradel did to me,” said she has faith that Francis can usher the church forward in this time of crisis.
“I think he is a man of incredible charisma and power, and if anyone can lead the church to these really fundamental reforms that it needs, it’s he.”
If she has one issue with the Pope’s letter, it’s that he said the church had abandoned the “little ones.” She thinks referring to victims in such a way “further infantilizes them,” she said.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who has urged Francis to direct church leaders to end efforts to silence victims, applauded the Pope’s letter but said the church needs to get behind the grand jury’s recommendations and take action to prevent this sort of scandal from repeating itself.
“The Pope has long been a fighter for the defenseless. As he notes in his letter, actions and sanctions to protect children and hold abusers and those who cover up abuse accountable have been ‘delayed,’” the attorney general wrote.
“It is my hope that, following the Holy Father’s words and teachings, Church leaders in Pennsylvania will cease their denials and deflections and now fully support the Grand Jury’s recommendations so that survivors have the opportunity to obtain justice and ensure this type of widespread abuse and cover up never happens again,” Shapiro said.
New language from Vatican
Juan Carlos Cruz, who has in the past been critical of Francis’ response to sex abuse in the church, said he found part of the Pope’s letter encouraging.
Earlier this year, Francis defended Bishop Juan Barros Madrid, who Cruz and others had accused of covering up sex abuse in his role as prelate of the Catholic Church in Chile. Francis called the accusations “calumny” and said he could not condemn Barros without evidence.
Calling out his alleged abuser, the Rev. Fernando Karadima, Cruz responded with a tweet to the pontiff: “As if one could have taken a selfie or photo while Karadima was abusing me or others with Juan Barros standing next to him, seeing everything. These (leaders) are crazy and @Pontifex_es talks of reparation to the victims. We remain the same and his apology remains empty.”
On Monday, Cruz, who now lives in Philadelphia, said there was a change in vocabulary coming from the Pope and the Vatican.
“There’s new language,” said Cruz, who spent a week in May talking to Francis about sex abuse. “They talk about crimes. They talk about a culture of death. They talk about a culture of abuse and cover-up. Before, they were omissions, sins, which is terrible.”
Francis’ letter, he said, “talks about going to local justice, how bishops don’t turn the perpetrators (over) to local justice because they’re not obligated to do so, and that is a horrible crime.”
Statute of limitations heavy on victims’ minds
At the same time, Cruz is disheartened by what he said was the church’s fight against measures to bring clergy to justice, he said. He specifically cited lobbying efforts to derail Pennsylvania state Rep. Mark Rozzi’s proposal to suspend the statute of limitations for victims of child sex abuse.
“They have to lobby to help survivors, not to fight them,” he said.
Dougherty, the alleged victim who says the Pope’s words are overdue, said action to end the statute of limitations – as well as to end the church’s lobbying efforts aimed at protecting clergy – is overdue as well.
“I would like the Pope, who is head of all the Catholic bishops, to change course immediately and reverse his actions on the lobbying efforts against us,” he said.