Pope Francis arrived in Chile with the right message: He was “pained and ashamed,” he said on Tuesday, about the irreparable damage abusive priests have inflicted on minors. Yet he refused to meet with victims of the country’s most nefarious sexual abuser, and when pressed about his support of a bishop linked to that priest, he dismissed the accusations as slander.
For all his professions of horror at the revelations about predatory priests whose activities were covered up by the hierarchy — and for all his other admirably enlightened and pastoral actions — it seems the pope has yet to fully appreciate that the abuse of minors is not simply a matter of a few deviant priests protected by overzealous prelates but of his church’s acceptance of a horrible violation of a most sacred trust: that of a devout and questioning youth and a spiritual guide.
Acknowledging and regretting the damage is not enough. If the Catholic Church is ever to lift the deep stain of child sex abuse, the pope must take every opportunity to reject not only clear violations but also the slightest appearance of tolerance for such behavior.
He missed that opportunity by attending the funeral last month for Cardinal Bernard Law, the powerful former archbishop of Boston who resigned after revelations that he protected abusive priests for years and became, in effect, the image of a hierarchy that concealed and thereby enabled sexual abuse. He missed it in the failure of the Vatican so far to appoint a new Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors after the commissioners’ terms expired in December.