Pope reiterates promise to act firmly against sexual abuse
September 21, 2017
Pope Francis repeated his assurance that the Church would “respond with the application of the firmest measures” against sexual abuse of children, in his prepared remarks to a September 21 audience with the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.
Pope Francis was meeting for the first time with the members of the papal commission, which he set up in 2014. He praised the members of the commission, including its chairman, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, for their dedication to the work. He also singled out Marie Collins, who resigned her post on the commission last year, expressing frustration with the lack of progress.
Setting aside his prepared text to speak informally with the members, the Pope remarked that the commission has been forced to “swim against the tide,” because of a lack of understanding of the nature of the problem. He said that the Church had been “late” in recognizing and responding to the nature of clerical abuse.
In fact Pope Francis said that he himself had been “learning on the job,” and revealed that he had come to regret his decision to overrule a decision to laicize an Italian priest who had been guilty of abuse. The priest returned to ministry and was charged with new cases of abuse. Pope Francis said that the experience taught him that abusers have “a terrible sickness” and that a “zero tolerance” policy is warranted.
Marie Collins responded to the Pope’s remarks by saying: “Zero tolerance is the way to go, but it’s toothless if there isn’t a sanction for anyone who doesn’t operate it.” She and other members of the papal commission have pushed for disciplinary action against bishops who fail to respond to abuse complaints. Pope Francis answered those complaints indirectly at his September 21 meeting, recalling the June 2016 motu proprio in which he said that canon law already allows for the removal of a bishop “for grave reasons,” and said that failure to act on abuse complaints constituted just such a reason for removal.
Pope Francis also told the commission members that he was pleased to notice that some episcopal conferences have adopted the commission’s recommendations regarding the best practices for safeguarding young people from abuse. In announcing her resignation last year, Collins had pointed out that many of the commission's recommendations were being ignored.
- Pope: "Church will apply firmest measures against those who abuse minors" (Vatican Radio)
- Pope says not laicizing priest guilty of abuse was a mistake; it will never happen again (Crux)
- Abuse survivor calls for more accountability after Pope Francis promises “zero tolerance” (Crux)