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Pope’s remarks to Curia on abuse more of the same

If Francis had given Friday’s speech — at least that section of it — in 2013, and followed it with concrete action taken swiftly and transparently, things might be different.

Pope Francis gives his annual pre-Christmas speech to officials of the Roman Curia and cardinals present in Rome Dec. 21, 2018 in the Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

“To those who abuse minors I would say this: convert and hand yourself over to human justice, and prepare for divine justice.” Those were the words upon which reporters rightly seized, and from which headline writers took to craft their hooks, when Pope Francis delivered his annual “state of the Church” address to senior officials of the Roman Curia on Friday.

The words echoed Pope St. John Paul II’s passionate denunciation of organized criminals delivered on May 9th, 1993. “In the name of the crucified and risen Christ, who is the way, the truth and the life,” Pope John Paul II intoned in remarks to the faithful gathered in the Sicilian city of Agrigento, “be converted, one day the judgment of God will come!”

One significant difference is that John Paul II’s remarks were extemporaneous, turgid with genuine ire, delivered in the midst of a mafia terror campaign that had already claimed the lives of two high-profile anti-mafia prosecutors, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, and would see more attacks later that same year in Rome, Florence, and Milan. Pope Francis’s remarks two days ago were studied, calculated, scripted. More to the point, Francis is rather better positioned to assist the clerics guilty of abuse in coming to face human justice, than was his sainted predecessor to help members of la cosa nostra come into the reach of the same.

If Francis had given Friday’s speech — at least that section of it — in 2013, and followed it with concrete action taken swiftly and transparently, things might be different. Then again, he did say similar things in 2013. “Act decisively as far as cases of sexual abuse are concerned,” Pope Francis urged then-Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, “promoting, above all, measures to protect minors, help for those who have suffered such violence in the past [and] the necessary procedures against those who are guilty.”

Almost exactly a year later, in off-the-cuff remarks, Francis told the International Catholic Child Bureau, BICE, “I feel compelled to personally assume all the evil which some priests — really quite a number, but not in proportion to the total number — to assume the burden myself and to ask for forgiveness for the harm they have done for having sexually abused children.”

“The Church is aware of this damage,” Pope Francis continued. “It is a personal, moral damage carried out by men of the Church, and we will not take one step backward concerning the treatment of this problem and the sanctions that must be imposed,” he said. “On the contrary, I believe that we have to be very strong. There is no messing around when it comes to children!”

In 2015, in Philadelphia, Pope Francis said, “The crimes and sins of sexual abuse of minors may no longer be kept secret.” Francis went on to renew his promises of zealous watchfulness. “I commit myself to ensuring that the Church makes every effort to protect minors and I promise that those responsible will be held to account,” he said.

2015 was also the year Pope Francis appointed Bishop Juan Barros to lead the Diocese of Osorno, Chile, against the counsel of the Chilean bishops and over the objections of the faithful, who suffered as a result of his obstinacy. “[The Church in] Osorno suffers, because she is stupid,” Pope Francis explained to pilgrims on the sidelines of a General Audience in May of that year.

In 2016, Pope Francis made it clear that the most vocal member of his Commission for the Protection of Minors, the Australian abuse survivor and victim-advocate, Peter Saunders, would not be welcome on the body anymore. Stories like the one by papal biographer Paul Vallely in The Guardian under the headline, “Is the pope serious about confronting child abuse?” began to appear.

In 2017, frustrated with its lack of progress, another abuse survivor, Ireland’s Marie Collins, quit the Commission for the Protection of Minors. It became apparent that the special court Pope Francis had established to prosecute wayward and negligent bishops and religious superiors would not be sitting, after all.

A mere rehearsal of events in 2018 would run the length of a book.

Hearing Pope Francis say what he said last Friday, at the end of a week in which we learned the extent of his own Jesuit order’s commitment to policies of foisting abusers on Native American populations and hiding abusers on a college campus (that last a policy of which Francis’s hand-picked adviser and one of the principal organizers for the upcoming February meeting on child protection, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, knew and apparently failed to mention to his successor in his former see of Spokane): as well as of the egregious failure of Church leadership in Illinois to report the names of some five hundred accused priests, or even investigate many of the claims against them; on the very day we heard news of criticism from other of the Pope’s closest collaborators over an appeals panel Francis established, which has reduced penalties imposed on priests found guilty of sexual abuse at canonical trial in the first instance; the words fall rather flat.

That so many miscarriages were a matter of policy makes other of Pope Francis’s protestations in the “state of the Church” speech Friday simply incredible.

“It is undeniable,” Pope Francis said, “that some in the past, out of irresponsibility, disbelief, lack of training, inexperience, or spiritual and human short-sightedness, treated many cases without the seriousness and promptness that was due.” Some, certainly, of the thousands of claims later deemed credible, were ones Church leaders mishandled out of irresponsibility, disbelief, lack of training, inexperience, or spiritual and human short-sightedness.

Even then, however, Church leaders did not simply treat cases without the seriousness and promptness they were due. Bishops actively sought to protect themselves and their priests — resorting even to intimidation, victim-blaming, and character-assassination. When they knew a man was guilty, they moved him, hid him, did almost anything to shield him from public authority and themselves from public scrutiny.

That self-regard and concern for “the institution” continues, poisonously, in the culture of the Church’s hierarchical leadership, along with a tendency to tout their achievements in finally taking measures to prevent evils they never should have allowed to occur in the first place. “The Charter is working,” the U.S. bishops tell us, time and again. Except when it doesn’t. Those the charter is not designed to protect are on their own. Ask Bishop Malone, in Buffalo. Ask the sheep of his flock. Ask a seminarian, if you can find one of the handful willing to talk.

“Let it be clear that before these abominations the Church will spare no effort to do all that is necessary to bring to justice whosoever has committed such crimes,” Pope Francis also said.“The Church will never seek to hush up or not take seriously any case,” Pope Francis promised. He said this, with a straight face, the very week it came to light that a priest with settled allegations against him had been saying Mass in New York and San Diego until the story of Archdiocesan payouts to his alleged victims was about to break.

This was the same week we learned of an auxiliary bishop appointed during the reign of Pope St. John Paul II (and during the tenure of the notorious Archbishop emeritus of Los Angeles, Cardinal Roger Mahony). It turns out Bishop Alexander Salazar had served for thirteen years with Vatican-imposed “restrictions” on his ministry as a result of the allegations against him. If Francis thinks accepting Salazar’s resignation after the LA archdiocesan review board found the allegation credible is sufficient proof of earnest, he is mistaken.

The hard fact is, Pope Francis’s talk is just that: talk. There has been a lot of it. There has been enough of it.

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About Christopher R. Altieri 221 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. Following this morning’s Mass I had a good feeling of hope for the Church. The 7 am turnout was large and response to my sermon addressing the times, Mary’s intervening role leading up to Fatima was good. I had offered a prayer for Pope Francis on another website, a Christmas prayer for his best intentions, and perhaps a miracle reconciliation made in tandem at the Vatican with papal ‘retiree’ Benedict XVI on Apostolic Tradition. A glorious event uniting a seriously divided Church. Your article good as expected. What I have thought for some time regarding Synodality the real issues expecting exactly what you surmise. It’s become increasingly difficult to avoid judgment regarding his intentions, that he is fully aware of the effect of his machinations in directing the Church away from what most, perhaps better said many desire. That is away from the former and toward his personal ecclesial vision. Dr Fastiggi offered rationale for his defense of the Pontiff’s recent policies referencing an oath to the pontiff’s magisterium required by Catholic college lecturers. A submission of will and intellect. That is our impasse. When I lectured at the seminary in Malawi later Tanzania is was under the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. I faced no such quandary. Quandary for me today if I lectured collegiately though I lecture now from the pulpit and write on the Internet. Nonetheless if I were in former circumstances that oath could not be a surfeit loyalty that compromises faith. Saddened I will continue to pray for the Pontiff. Although I will not permit him to stand between Christ and my loyalty to Him.

  2. To the Holy Father, patriarch of Rome: “Read my lips: homosexuality.”

    As regarding prayer for the patriarch of Rome, we are obligated to do this during every Mass.

  3. This is the pontificate of the desolate: engineered by the arch-liar and post-Christian clericalist fraud and sex predator of altar boys and seminarians – the life-long destroyer of the Catholic faith – Theodore McCarrick…in tandem with the notorious sex abuse coverup Cardinal Danneels of Belgium…defender of Bishop Vangelhuwe (who raped his own little nephew) and enemy of the family seeking justice.

    Those are the friends of this pontiff: post-christian sex abusers and frauds. Enemies of the holy priesthood and every devoted Catholic parent. Arch-liars and Papal sycophants of the clericalist jet set. Alien to truth and justice, profaning the precious gift of sacred mercy stolen from The Holy Lord Jesus.

  4. I never thought I would see the day that our Pope tries to cover up enormous evil within the church. Pope Francis tries to hide the evil of the homosexualization of the church by trying to pretend the problem is “child abuse”. After the problem of the homosexualiation of the church erupted in summer, Francis seeks to hide the true meaning of the crisis. How low can a Pope go?

    Pope Francis knows full well what the problem is. McCarrick was a problem because he was a homosexual who attacked seminarians. His elevation along with the elevation of sub par bishops like Cupich, “Nighty Night baby” Tobin, and “I know Nothing” Farrell show the existence of malevolent networks of homosexuals in the church. Pope Francis knows that the child abuse crisis is primarily a homosexual crisis. Pope Francis knows this was successfully covered up in 2002. Pope Francis knows that homosexuality in the priesthood has led to a watering down of the faith. Pope Francis knows that lots of seminaries have been havens for homosexuals.

    He may speak once in a while, in a mild and tepid manner, about not having homosexuals in our seminaries. But he will never do anything about it.

    So, knowing full well what the problem is, Pope Francis now seeks to cover up and mislead the public by claiming that he is against “child abuse”. This, after having appointed child abusing bishops, after revoking the mild restrictions put on McCarrick, his “hero”. As a practical matter, the Pope simply says “Go ahead homosexuals, have all the sex you want. We will not do anything, as long as it is not with children. Our Pope is nothing more than a politician. He does not care much about Catholicism, he only cares about creating a New Church” a new paradigm, a homosexualiztion of the church where all the homosexual “theology” is incorporated into, and corrupts Catholic doctrine. This is the true meaning of Pope Francis’s pontificate. It is the true meaning of the weirdness that is Amoris Laetitia. It is the true meaning of the vast numbers of homosexualist bishops appointed to top Vatican positions.

    This is why McCarrick stood there at Villanova after Francis’s election and why he said that Francis would permanently alter the church in five years. Now we know what McCarrick was talking about.

    The filth is in the church. Francis helps the filth be in the church. Pope Francis was strange and distrubing from the moment he entered office. How we know why. In the coming year, it will be up to the laity to set this situation right. we can expect no help from our bishops or the Pope. Last year was the year when Pope Francis had his mask ripped off. This coming year will be the year in which the laity rises.

    • Is it unreasonable for some of us to think that just possibly the Pope has his own baggage, so to speak? The situation becomes graver and graver by the day. As another has said earlier, I have been unsettled by this man since the very beginning of his pontificate.

      • It is perfectly reasonable. There is smoke. Bergoglio has benefited MASSIVELY from the language barrier. Where are the bilingual Catholic journalists who can go to Argentina and interview the male prostitutes and pimps of Buenos Aires?

  5. One would regard this laughable were it not simply mortifying.
    “To those who abuse minors I would say this: convert and hand yourself over to human justice, and prepare for divine justice.”
    It makes no sense in relationship to his own proclaimed “magisterium.”
    The application of common decency, common sense and established canonical protocols – let alone cognizance and assent to Catholic doctrine, would have nipped the orgy in the bud whenever it raised its head.
    The absence of a respect for these made this catastrophe possible, and no papal admonition to the naughty boys is going to correct it. What will correct it is deafening and blazing exhortation to return to Catholicism unmitigated by Darwin, Marx, Freud and Alfred Kinsey. A Catholicism unmitigated by posers of theological acumen and false episcopal mystics mouthing off on the non-existence of Hell and the evaporation of souls.
    To those who abuse the perennial Magisterium of the Catholic Church I would say this: absent yourselves from positions of authority, convert and hand yourself over to a simple human enterprise, make an honest living by the sweat of your brow, and stop pretending to an avenue of a new revelation – a new paradigm. And yes, do prepare for divine justice. To those to whom much has been given usually much is expected.
    After the past five and three quarter years I expect nothing but more wind and theatrics in a white cassock.

  6. While McCarrick is still archbishop,
    While McCarrick is still living comfortably on the dime of faithful pewsitters,
    With McCarrick still facing NO canonical charges, whatsoever,
    Well then, all that Francis spews forth is simply preposterous.
    The coming assault by the state attorneys general will be a nightmare for our dear bishops. Some will go to jail.
    Fine. So be it.

  7. I wish the commentators on this issue would try to tackle the difference between homosexual, pederast and paedophile. 40% of the latter two in the general population are bisexual not homosexual attacking either sex indiscriminately.No mention is made of the fact that priests could marry for the first 1,000 years of the Church, St Peter was married, Anglican priests who convert can stay married. Celibacy is a charisma gift not available to everyone who is called to be a priest.

    • You have a friend occupying the Chair of Peter, and you merely mime his condecension toward those faithful to the perennial Magisterium of the Church. Your agenda is transparent. You attempt to justify not an alternate perspective on the priesthood, but to justify concupiscence.
      Were you to dig a little deeper on the issue of celibacy, the virtue of chastity – indeed of all the virtues and the dynamic in the spiritual life between them and the vices we all harbor, as well as the theology of the Holy Priesthood your positon would evaporate before reason. The practice of priestly celibacy extends back to the early Church, to Jesus Christ and His apostles. Despite the fact that Peter is known to have been married, there is no evidence that he was married when he responded to Christ’s call. And while there were married priests in the first millennium it was not as entrenched as many would believe, married men could become priests but priests could not marry, and there were proscriptions about sexual intimacy between the priest and his spouse. They could not remarry should their spouse die. Married priests could not become bishops. Celibacy was regarded as a superior practice and was held in esteem.
      And rest assured, despite the absurdities of Cardinal Coccopalmerio – intimate consultant to the Holy Father – who suggested in 2017 that Anglican orders are not invalid — they are indeed invalid. There is no means to ensure the line of apostolic succession the Anglican practice and its offshoots, there is no adherence to Catholic theology, their understanding allows for female clerical ordination as well as in their episcopate which is absolutely erroneous. How could their “priesthood” be equivocated with the priesthood of Jesus Christ? With the Catholic priesthood and that of the Apostolic Churches? There is no correspondence between protestant ministry exercised by men and women in the Anglican communion with the Holy Priesthood in the Catholic Church and the other Apostolic Churches. Coccopalmerio holds to erroneous positions on sexual morality — it is credibly reported that he “presided” at the cocaine fueled orgy raided in his secretary’s apartment by the Italian police in the recent past. The gentleman is vacuous at best.
      Everyone is aware that eighty-five percent of the clerical sexual scandal perpetrated is generated by homosexuals. In the overall picture less than two percent of this abomination had prepubescent children – boys or girls – as their victims. While surely there have been such offenses throughout our history the licentiousness advanced by an increasing secular materialist culture since the Protestant revolution, its explosion in the post WWI west has greatly served to undermine the practice of virtue among the laity as well as those consecrated in religious life and the priesthood. That does not in any way support the abandonment of celibacy and the practice of chastity according to one’s state in life. In fact, quite the contrary.
      Christian life is practiced in conformity to the Crucified Christ. All attempts to avoid that reality end in absurdity. Witness the life of the Church in the past sixty years. Fraudulence masquerading as authentic Gospel living brings us to this moment in history. Self-deception is no substitute for the imitation of Christ to which every one of us is called.

    • I wish the commentators on this issue would try to tackle the difference between homosexual, pederast and paedophile.
      All of those intrinsically disordered sexual deviancies are incompatible with the ordained ministerial Priesthood in either the Latin or Eastern Rites.
      No mention is made of the fact that priests could marry for the first 1,000 years of the Church
      You are incorrect. While married men were indeed ordained, once ordained, a single Priest could not then lawfully marry and remain in the clerical state. Also, said Priests were expected to adopt the discipline of lex continentiae – total continence – for the rest of their life. Perhaps a study of Canons XXVII and XXXIII of the Council of Elvira, for starters, would prove edifying in correcting your deficient knowledge on the topic. Obtaining and deliberately reading the references supplied by Father Pepka would be prudent as well before you comment further.
      St Peter was married
      At one time; his wife is never mentioned in Scripture. His exchange with Christ as described in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, provided below, on the topic apparently have never been read by you either.

      “Then Peter answering, said to him: Behold we have left all things, and have followed thee: what therefore shall we have? And Jesus said to them: Amen, I say to you, that you, who have followed me, in the regeneration, when the Son of man shall sit on the seat of his majesty, you also shall sit on twelve seats judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And every one that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall possess life everlasting. And many that are first, shall be last: and the last shall be first.” Matthew 19:27-30

      “Then Peter said: Behold, we have left all things, and have followed thee. Who said to them: Amen, I say to you, there is no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God’s sake, Who shall not receive much more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting.” Luke 18:28-30

      Anglican priests(sic) who convert can stay married
      Married Anglican ministers – Anglican orders are invalid and thus they are not Priests – who convert and seek ordination to the Priesthood in the Latin Rite under Pope St. John Paul IIs 1980 Pastoral Provision is not automatic, is rare; less than 1,000 worldwide, and is only allowed if the prospective ordinand agrees to adopt the discipline of celibacy for the remainder of his life if his spouse precedes him in death. Same in the Eastern Rite Churches.

      Celibacy is a charisma gift not available to everyone who is called to be a priest.
      Those who discern a vocation to both ordination and marriage have 21 Churches in the Eastern Rites to choose from, not just the Latin Rite. In addition, not all of those who discern the call are correct. That is why formation is such a lengthy process.

  8. This is more than outrageous.

    In what sphere of life is calling for criminals to turn themselves in an effective way to deal with crime?

    It’s time for the laity to form a Millstone Society which springs into action whenever there’s a hint of clerical sexual misconduct.

    Seminaries would be scrutinized. Bishops would be held accountable. Pedophiles would be reported to authorities.

    We cannot stand by waiting for Bergoglio or his cronies to act. They’ve already shown that they have no intention of doing anything but stalling and waiting for the attention of the world to move on — a longtime leftist tactic.

  9. The scholarly study of the origins of priestly celibacy began only a few decades ago, so awareness of the findings of this study still is not very widespread. Both Warren and James, each from his own perspective, might benefit from reading Cochini’s ‘The Apostolic Origins of Priestly Celibacy’ and Heid’s ‘Celibacy in the Early Church’ (the more readable). For the first 11 centuries, the clergy were required to observe sexual continence from the moment of ordination, regardless of marital status. Excluding the married from ordination became necessary in the 12th century to stop clerics from bequeathing Church property to their sons. Otherwise, the Church might have continued to ordain married men, who would still have been required to observe sexual continence from the moment of ordination.
    And then, it would have remained the fact that such a commitment would have continued to be violated. This is nothing new. Although it seems clear enough that pedophilia is not the principal aspect of this crisis, the extent and nature of it seems not to be readily admitted. What is at stake is not a negative: it is the very positive and perennially countercultural virtue of chastity. All Christians are called to practice this virtue, but not all in the same way. In the modern West, however, chastity has dropped out of the awareness of many. The civil laws that used to support it for the sake of the integrity of the family (and therefore of the society in general) have been erased in many western countries. And even the Church’s appreciation of chastity has been affected. How many members of the clergy have been defrocked recently for having sex with other adults? Last time I checked, the commitment to priestly celibacy meant no sexual relations of any sort. Where are the bishops who are willing to tackle all the aspects of this betrayal of the grace of ordination?

  10. Pope Francis has sadly lost all credibility in his handling of the sexual abuse crisis. As Monsignor Charles Pope noted in the NCR, he is the face of the abuse crisis now.

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