Pontiff uses first speech to stress how scandal has “disfigured” the face of the Church
Pope Francis’ first speech yesterday on arrival in Portugal for World Youth Day left tough messages for priests, bishops and politicians. With large billboards strategically sited along his route into the capital – alluding to the horrors of historic child sex abuse within the Catholic Church – being hurriedly papered over, presumably to try and save the pontiff from discomfort, the 86-year-old head of the Roman Catholic Church showed he had no illusions: the first evening here saw him meeting 13 victims of abuse at the hands of Portuguese clergy, “to ask for their forgiveness”, writes tabloid Correio da Manhã.
A brief statement issued by the Holy See said “the meeting took place in an atmosphere of intense listening and lasted more than an hour”.
The victims were accompanied by representatives of Church institutions, as well as child psychiatrist Pedro Strecht – the man who led and presented the bombshell report on child sex abuse at the hands of Portuguese priests dating back to the 1950s.
Earlier in the Pope’s schedule, His Holiness insisted on the need for “a humble and constant purification” in the light of this scandal that had been hidden in plain sight for well over half a century.
The Portuguese Episcopal Conference (CEP) later considered Pope Francis’ meeting with the victims confirms the path of “reconciliation that the Portuguese Church” has been making, writes Lusa.
“This meeting of the Holy Father represents the confirmation of the path of reconciliation that the Church in Portugal has been following in this area, putting the victims first, collaborating in their reparation and recovery, so that they can look to the future with renewed hope and freedom“, said a note from CEP.
It was a far cry from CEP’s initial reaction to the report by the independent commission set up to investigate child sexual abuse within the Church. But it bore testament to this Pope’s determination to ‘ring the changes’.
Media outlets like Euronews refer to Francis’ “blasting” of Portugal’s Catholic Church leaders, “saying their actions had helped drive the faithful away.
“Francis waded head-on into the scandal roiling the Portuguese church upon his arrival”, said a text, recalling the report released in February this year pointing to the abuse of “at least 4,815 boys and girls”.
As Euronews stresses, “prior to the report, Portuguese church officials had insisted there had only been a handful of cases. After its release, they initially refused to remove named abusers from the ministry or to compensate victims”.
So far there has been no statement by any group representing the victims. But there has been a fairly blistering response from BishopAccountability.org, the largest public library of information on the Catholic clergy abuse crisis (see below).
The Pope’s schedule today is a packed one. See our story “Portugal prepared for one of largest operations ever in hosting World Youth Day” for details.
As for the tough words for politicians, these referred to Portugal’s law legalising medically-assisted death in a restricted set of circumstances. This is not the first time the Pope has lamented this law.
2. He could revamp his ineffective ‘bishop accountability’ law, Vos estis lux mundi, which even his own advisor, Fr. Hans Zollner, S.J, describes as ‘not working.’ The Pope could clean house, country after country, removing complicit bishops, stripping them of their titles, and publishing accounts of their wrongdoing. He might as well start in Portugal; he should publicly denounce and remove bishops’ conference president José Ornelas and all of his colleagues who have demonstrated contempt for victims’ testimonies as well as resistance to compensating victims for the terrible harm inflicted on them by the church.
Founded in 2003, BishopAccountability.org maintains the world’s largest archive of documents on the problem of clergy sexual abuse, outside the Holy See’s own archives. We conduct research on child sexual abuse by priests and religious and on the management of those cases by bishops and their staffs, superiors of religious orders, and the Holy See. An independent non-profit based in Waltham, Massachusetts, USA, BishopAccountability.org is not a victims’ advocacy group and is not affiliated with any church, reform, or victims’ organization.
Contact for BishopAccountability.org
Anne Barrett Doyle, Co-Director, BishopAccountability.org, [email protected]