Although Pope Francis got credit from survivors for good intentions after a letter on Monday on the abuse crisis in which he confessed that the Church “showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them,” the overall reaction perhaps could be summarized as, “We’ve heard it all before.”
“Statements from Vatican or Pope should stop telling us how terrible abuse is, and how all must be held accountable,” is what Irish abuse survivor Marie Collins said on Twitter, in one of three messages in a span of minutes.
“Tell us instead what you are doing to hold them accountable. That is what we want to hear. ‘Working on it’ is not an acceptable explanation for decades of ‘delay’,” Collins wrote.
Speaking with Crux a day before the papal letter addressed to the People of God, Collins had said that when he comes to Ireland Aug. 25-26, rather than “more apologies,” she wants to hear the pope explain what concrete steps he’s going to take to guarantee that bishops who’ve covered up are held accountable.
In his letter, Francis referred to the “heart-wrenching pain” of the victims of clerical sexual abuse, “which cries out to heaven,” and which was “long ignored, kept quiet or silenced.”
“But their outcry was more powerful than all the measures meant to silence it, or [which] sought even to resolve it by decisions that increased its gravity by falling into complicity.”
Chilean survivor Juan Carlos Cruz has been speaking out against his abuser, Father Fernando Karadima, for over a decade. Earlier in the year, Cruz was in the Vatican together with two other survivors of Karadima’s abusers where they met Pope Francis.
“I’m glad that the Vatican and the pope are using a language of ‘crime, delinquency, going to civil justice, cover-up’,” Cruz told Crux about the letter. “All of this is good.”
Civil justice systems and ordinary Catholics alike have used that language for some time, Cruz said, and “as usual, the ones lagging behind are the bishops.”
Recently, Chile’s prosecutor’s office raided the archives of several dioceses and the headquarters of the bishops’ conference, and summoned Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati of Santiago to be interrogated on suspicion of cover-up. The prelate was scheduled to be questioned Tuesday, but, at the request of the defense, the appointment was postponed.
“I have a lot of hope in this letter, but the horror is too big, the damage done irreparable, and we mustn’t rest and continue fighting to try to help the victims,” Cruz said. “The bishops who continue trying to protect themselves by accusing the victims of wanting to attack the Church should leave, because those days are gone.”
A little less conversation, a little more action please
Englishman Peter Saunders, who also served in the pope’s commission but who left before his term was up, was terse in his reaction to the papal letter.
“Fine words. WORDS??” is how he put it upon Crux’s written request for a reaction.
Survivors weren’t the only ones reacting. Several members of the hierarchy also reacted to the pope’s letter, including Archbishop Mark Coleridge, President of the Australian bishops’ conference.
“We share the Holy Father’s determination to protect young people and vulnerable adults,” Coleridge wrote in the name of the Australian prelates.
“These are important words from Pope Francis, but words are not enough,” Coleridge wrote, echoing the words of the victims. “Now is the time for action on many levels.”
In the United States, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, of Galveston-Houston and president of the bishops’ conference, released a statement in the name of the entire body saying that the pope’s words “must provoke action - especially by the bishops.”
Among the laity, many echoed similar sentiments.
For instance, actress Patricia Heaton, known among other things for her role in Malcom in the Middle and who last year emceed the Al Smith dinner hosted by Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and who’s a hero of the Catholic pro-life movement for her outspokenness against eugenics of unborn babies with Down Syndrome, went to Twitter to express her frustration.
“This is the last time I will comment on the church (don’t hold me to that - they seem to find fresh new ways to enrage). We finally get a letter from @Pontifex which, after the usual garment-rending, offers no actionable steps against the perps and their enablers. ‘Nuf said,” she wrote.
William Bradford Wilcox, Director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia chose the same outlet to express his frustration, saying: “Unless accompanied by real sanctions for failures in leadership among U.S. bishops (i.e., bishops resigning), this means very little @Pontifex: And we need to see real discipline for those at the Vatican who did nothing after being warned about McCarrick.”
“I was looking for a plan and it didn’t give a plan. I felt like I was reading a cut and paste from previous letters. It’s not that he’s not allowed to repeat himself because important thoughts merit repetition, but I think it was a profound misreading of what the Catholic people had hoped for and desperately yearn for, which is a plan for ending this,” said Anne Barret Doyle, co-director of BishowAccountability.org.
“With the Chilean situation, for the first time in 16 years, I was so amazed with what he was saying and doing, I thought, we’re on the verge of systemic reform,” she told Crux on Tuesday. “For the first time, I believed that…I thought we were going to see a new mechanism for punishing bishops and religious superiors…but with this letter there seemed to be a lack of recognition of his own power and responsibility.”
Children have to come first
The pope’s own commission for the protection of minors released a statement on Tuesday, a day after the letter, in which the group defined itself as “encouraged” by Francis’ words and promise of accountability for cover-up.
Professor Myriam Wijlens, a member of the commission and an expert in canon law, praised the pope’s decision to link sexual abuse to abuse of power and abuse of conscience.
However, she also said that “the response of asking for pardon and seeking repair will never be sufficient also because it only looks backwards. A forward-looking response implies asking for a radical change of culture where the safety of children enjoys top priority.”
“Protecting the reputation of the church stipulates putting the safety of children first. The clergy alone will not be able to bring about such a radical change, thus Pope Francis writes: in humility they will have to ask for and receive help from the whole community,” Wijlens said.