Is Pope Francis serious about addressing the abuse crisis and its causes?

Francis apparently believes that airing bishops’ dirty laundry is not the right thing to do—and that is a large part of the attitude that got us to this point in the first place.

Pope Francis leaves his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Sept. 12. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Anyone who is praising the announcement on Wednesday of Pope Francis’ convocation of the presidents of the world’s bishops’ conferences for a meeting in February on clerical sex abuse has not been paying attention.

For one thing, the sexual abuse of minors by clerics is only the peculiarly gruesome tip of an ocean-tipping iceberg; the systematic coverup of abuse is the level just beginning to be brought to the surface — the depth and extent of rot in clerical culture, high and low, is what we have yet to fathom — and although the Press Office statement that accompanied the announcement — from the “Council of Nine” cardinals — of the February meeting did make mention of “vulnerable adults”, the whole thing reads as pre-packaged and contrived.

For another, the wording of the announcement strongly suggests that the C9 cardinals had to persuade Pope Francis of the need to do something—anything—to address the issue. “The Holy Father, Francis, having heard the Council of Cardinals, has decided to convoke a reunion with the Presidents of the Episcopal Conferences of the Catholic Church, on the theme of ‘protection of minors,’” the statement reads. That’s the way—in curialese—to tell people you had to twist the boss’s arm to get what you got.

Whatever else it might be, another meeting of episcopal minds to think through and talk about the issue cannot be any real part of a serious address of this very urgently pressing crisis.

Pope Francis, in any case, appears to have a very different view of the Church’s circumstances and their cause. He claimed on Tuesday that the bishops are the victims of a diabolical plot, to which the faithful are at best unwitting accomplices.

“In these times, it seems like the ‘Great Accuser’ has been unchained and is attacking bishops,” he said on Tuesday morning at Mass in the Casa Santa Marta. “True, we are all sinners, we bishops,” Francis went on to say. “[The Great Accuser] tries to uncover [our] sins, so they are visible, in order to scandalize the people.”

One would think that, after all we’ve been through in the past eight months—not to mention the last 16 years and more—the proposition that people have a right to know the character and conduct of bishops would not be too controversial.

Again, Pope Francis apparently has a different idea.

In one sense, he’s quite right. The devil prowls the earth like a roaring lion, 1 Peter 5:8 tells us, seeking souls to devour. We also know the devil likes the taste of bishop. The problem is that the bishops who have winked at moral turpitude and covered for the wickedness of too many clerics over too many decades have betrayed the trust of the people—including priests—the souls of whom God has entrusted to their care.

Pope Francis appears genuinely to believe that airing bishops’ dirty laundry is not the right thing to do, because God chose them, and doing so will compromise their mission-effectiveness. That is a large part of the attitude that got us to this point in the first place. “I was part of the problem,” the abuse survivor and victim-advocate, Juan Carlos Cruz, has quoted Francis as having said after the Chilean theatre of the global crisis exploded in his face. If that was a moment of clarity for Pope Francis, it is now apparent that he has recovered from it. The tendency toward trolling and gaslighting the faithful, who are fed up with the corruption, incompetence, tone-deafness, and plain old blindness and deafness of the bishops, is certainly “part of the problem.”

If this assessment is inaccurate, Francis needs to prove it so in deed.

Does the Church have enemies? Yes. Have those enemies used the abuse crisis as a club with which to beat the Church? Yes. They shall continue to do so. The ineluctable fact of the matter is that the hierarchical leaders of the Church are largely responsible for fashioning the weapon and putting it into her enemies’ hands.

The ultimate goal in all this must be moral recrudescence in the whole Church, especially in the ranks of clerical and hierarchical leadership. The cultural crisis in the Church is complicated, however, by the admixture—inevitable, this side of the celestial Jerusalem—of the general ills of the age.

In our age, enlightened and democratic as it is, we do not often hear talk of the sin of prosopolempsia—literally, “face-taking”—which is usually rendered “respect of persons.” “What,” one might ask, “is wrong with respecting persons?” To be a “respecter of persons” in the possibly sinful sense means, in essence, to deal with people according to their social rank, prestige, or perceived standing in a community, rather than according to the quality of their character. It might help to think of it as being a respecter of someone’s persona—and it is dangerous, even when the persona to which one is at risk of standing in thrall is that of a bishop, especially the Bishop of Rome.

The great cautionary tale in this regard is Hans Christian Andersen’s short story, The Emperor’s New Clothes.

In that story, everyone sees what there is—and is not—to see, but only a child without the worldly wit to know the stakes is capable of saying what there is to say. “Be like the child,” is the facile takeaway. It is not wrong, as far as it goes, but it misses the point of what is, again, a cautionary tale. Do not be like everyone else in the story, from the emperor on down: unable to say, because one is unwilling to admit — because of what the admission would say about oneself — that the emperor is naked as the day he was born.

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About Christopher R. Altieri 251 Articles
Christopher R. Altieri is a journalist, editor and author of three books, including Reading the News Without Losing Your Faith (Catholic Truth Society, 2021). He is contributing editor to Catholic World Report.


  1. And of course the issue is more than just “the abuse of minors.”

    Bergoglio the hagiographer is proposing a new kind of saint who thwarts on behalf of bishops primarily, ““[The Great Accuser](who) tries to uncover [our] sins, so they are visible, in order to scandalize the people.” Danneels would then be someone worthy of emulation, and Mahony would become the Patron Saint of Payouts with that $660 million just 6 million shy of the Number suggesting the real problem in that Archdiocese of the Angels: accusations, uncovering.

    I read about a thief whose “mission-effectiveness” was compromised by an alarm.

    There is no amount of piety or respect that should prevent of us from knowing that objectively the language of character disorder and abuse first and foremost and insistently blames the other, expresses rage at being found out/challenged and offers most frequently a kind of sham regret, what regret “must be like” for those who actually have regrets.

  2. The Pope it seems is afraid of the light. He prefers to keep them in the dark.

    But are we not supposed to be children of light?

    It seems he’d rather we all pay obeisance to the prince of darkness.

  3. Resignation of the Pope and all his friends would be a breath of fresh for the faithful.
    Cover up and lie has been a way of life for most of the Bishops.

  4. Great article. If filth and evil does not see the light of day then it cannot be overcome. PF needs to deal with Bishops and priests who do not uphold ALL the teachings of the Church. He needs to start by setting a good example for them. No more ‘off the cuff’ remarks. Stick to our history, teaching and Church tradition. There can be no conversion if first the sinner does not acknowledge his sin and repent.

  5. If his Holiness were truly serious about addressing the abuse crisis he would have immediately dismissed Cardinals Maradiaga and Wuerl (both of whom have in any case already submitted their resignations) as well as Cardinals Farrell and Tobin, and allowed an investigation with the cooperation of the laity and law enforcement to get to the truth of Vigano’s allegations.

  6. Remember the question, “What is Francis trying to teach us?” that arose whenever he did something that had a peculiar odor? Maybe we should play that game. “Maybe Francis is teaching us that we should not expect every Pope to be a prophet, because not every Pope is a prophet. Maybe he is teaching us that we should not expect every Pope to be a saint, because not every Pope is a saint. Maybe he is teaching us not to treat every papal utterance as a pure expression of the mind of God, because not every papal utterance is a pure expression of the mind of God.”

  7. As a member of a religious community, I beg to differ with what is stated in this article. A superior, whether in the religious life or in a diocese, is reponsible for every member of the flock, especially the weakest and most vulnerable. Making faults known publicly is rarely the best way to help anyone. More often than not, it both adds to the suffering and widens the scope of suffering. In the present crisis, members of the hierarchy have been seriously at fault in not addressing the problems brought to their knowledge. The problem at the source of all the present horrible situation is a failure that goes back decades: a failure to develop a deep spiritual relationship with Our Lord both on the part of priests and of the laity. If someone does not have a deep intimacy with Him, they will seek intimacy elsewhere.

    • You speak the truth. Thank you, Dr. Gabriela. The deep root, the “source of all the present horrible situation” … is “a failure to develop a deep spiritual relationship with Our Lord.” And you add a critically important insight: “If someone does not have a deep intimacy with Him, they will seek intimacy elsewhere.” Here you clarify the heart of the matter as it affects priests, vowed religious, and members of the laity.

      We have abandoned the wisdom once called “common sense”. Jesus himself instructed Satan not “to tempt the Lord thy God”. These teaching words warn us not to place ourselves in mortal moral danger, so to speak.

      We have failed, in conjunction with the prevailing cultural thinking/ideology, to protect the vulnerable. This seems to have resulted from serious misunderstanding of respect for others.

      Perhaps we can now begin to do so. We will not place people in situations that tempt human nature. We will not assume that vowed persons, ordained, promised, or married persons, have become angels. Dr. John Haas wrote on this subject.

      As far as “making faults known publicly” is concerned, that would seem to be necessary only when failure to do so endangers others. In the case of the bishops, I suspect and hope that most of these men – not angels – accepted advice of “experts” who should not have been given the last word within the church. Some were guilty of much, much worse. My prayers are for all, but especially for those who had no evil intent whatsoever. They will pay a terrible price. The others will receive the penalty they deserve.

      Again, thank you.

    • And yet, if the leadership of the Archdiocese of Boston had made public what Fr John Geoghan had done to boys in the parish of St. Paul back in the 1960’s, he would not have been in a position to rape dozens more children over the next three decades. That Fr Geoghan ought also to have been laicized and turned over to criminal prosecution is not a sufficient argument; states keep public registered sex offender lists for a reason. There was no guarantee that Geoghan would have spent his entire life behind bars.

      There are some sins that are best left in the confessional or with the spiritual director. But sins like these are grave crimes, and the faithful’s right to transparency outweighs the privacy and dignity right of the perpetrators.

      • Indeed, Richard Malcom; there is an interesting commentary on the These Stone Walls blog…and the comment “Louis” makes seems pertinent here. He says:

        “The point is not confronting immorality, but stopping predation. Immorality stays in the confessional; predation is in the external forum and requires external intervention to come between the predator and the prey.”

        I agree with what Louis says.

  8. I did some reading about the immunity of a pontiff to deposition on the basis of moral misconduct. Not sure whether Pope Francis is guilty of a cover up, though if so, that would be a species moral misconduct.

    Apparently the Church has long held that a Pope’s right or entitlement to hold office should not be tied to his moral behaviors. Apparently any dispute that has arisen over this echoes the Donatist debate.

    Quite possibly this practice should change, and the surrounding theology.

    Regardless, deposition is distinct from being subject to civil law. Even if there are good reasons not to depose a Pope for moral misconduct (though that needs revisiting), still I see no reason why this has any bearing on the question whether a Pope should be prosecuted under civil law. There is every reason to think he should be. *Whose* civil law is of course the question. And thus that question about Vatican City law, to obviate that being a haven for wayward Popes, or cardinals.

    Any changes to law in above respects will probably have to be the first order of business of a new pontiff.

  9. Apparently, the “Rev.” Julio Grassi sex abuse case, discussed at 1 Peter 5 on 11 Sep, along with the other abuse cases during the reign of then-Cardinal Bergoglio, indicate that Pope Francis is just another clericalist coverup artist.

    In the Grassi case, he pretended to hold a nuetral position publicly, but behind the scenes, engineered a massive legal defense for Grassi, aimed at attacking victims, ignoring parents, and undermining and unduly influencing the state prosecution.

    And yet, Pope Francis claimed publicly that there were never any sex abuse cases among clergy in his jurisdiction.

    A brazen falsehood…so typical of the narcissistic clericalist cult.

    • Bingo!
      Bergoglio = Wuerl = Maradiaga = Grassi = …
      The Argentinian abuse cases just now coming to public notice prove that Bergoglio is a liar and a master of gaslighting the faithful.
      Only when he is gone may conditions in the Church improve.

      Fiant dies eius pauci, et ministerium eius accipiat alter. (Psalm 109:8)

  10. In my own view, the Pope has decided to “dig in”. This means that he’s prepared to drag the Church through unspeakable and avoidable harm.

    His call for a world meeting of conference presidents has the appearance of a comprehensive, grand gesture. But the problem pertains mostly to moral corruption among Francis and his allies in the Americas and in the Vatican.

    To get started on the problem, all that he has to do is (1) remove or neutralize his morally corrupt allies; (2) reverse course and start the vetting process for new bishops that was used by Benedict XVI, and (3) hire a trusted intelligence agency to gather information on the lavender mafia at the Vatican for the purposes of removal.

  11. The post meeting USCCB press release in BS.
    Nothing to see here folks, move on.
    What a waste of time. What an insult to the American deplorable pewsitter.
    This is what the pope thinks of us. Please, dear Lord in Heaven, replace this pope.

  12. We will receive no help from Rome. It is at the epicenter of this corruption. Before all this turns around, we will have nothing left but the rosary.

  13. No, he’s not serious. The only thing the egocentric pope cares about is freedom to surround himself with yes-men who will agree to support his agenda of remaking God’s Church in his image, one that welcomes the tyranny of moral relativism and hard core left wing politics.

  14. If as laity we do not know the true character of our shepherds then why have them at all? We have a right to know if they have strayed from Church teachings or any other behavior that impacts our lives as the Church. PF needs to STOP being defensive and offer some major sign of repentance if we expects any of us to ever believe him again.

  15. Of course not. He never cares about the victims of sin. Francis the merciful is merciless towards the victims of sin. He merely likes to look like a hero among libs for alleviating guilt feelings. He favors prelates who push his agenda of moral relativism no matter how personally depraved they are.

  16. This article was published on September 12, 2018. As I write this comment the date is April 11, 2019. The answer is clear. The Pope is NOT serious about it! Nothing, absolutely nothing, to date, has been done to a) examine the McCarrick Mess and b) investigate the Vigano Testimony. This is deplorable! It HURTS me to say that I do not trust this Pope at all especially in his appointments! It is time action is taken! We need a coalition of like minded bishops and cardinals to first, respectively, to ask the Pope for action together with deadline dates. Then, the USCCB must insist on action! Nothing will be done if we wait on Bergoglio. Are documents, even as I write, being destroyed in the Vatican? Action MUST be taken or the Church is destine to live through this hell again. I love the Church but I love God more!

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