Another gross Vatican gaffe in handling sex-abuse complaints

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | May 07, 2018

One step forward, two steps back. One excellent statement about a no-nonsense commitment to fighting sexual abuse, then a public act that suggests the issue is still not a top priority.

Chilean abuse victims were moved and encouraged by their private meetings with Pope Francis last week. Then on May 5, when the Pontiff joined a public celebration for the 50th anniversary of the Neocatechumenal Way, Archbishop Anthony Apuron— who was only recently convicted of abuse by a Vatican tribunal— was seated on the stage near the Pontiff.

True, Archbishop Apuron has appealed his conviction, and still proclaims his innocence. But he is one of only two archbishops ever found guilty of sexual abuse— not merely of ignoring evidence of abuse, but of molesting boys himself. Why would the Vatican give him a prominent role in a public ceremony, just a few weeks after announcing his conviction?

Shortly after his election to the papacy, Benedict XVI gave his staff instructions that they should never provide Father Marcial Maciel with a chance to be seen alongside the new Pope; the founder of the Legionaries of Christ was quietly frozen out of papal events. And that was long before the public disclosure of Macial’s abuses. But now Archbishop Apuron (who will be stripped of that title, if the tribunal’s verdict is upheld) has his photo op with the Pope— the same Pope who, a week earlier, had been begging Chilean victims for forgiveness, acknowledging that “I was part of the problem.”

Sadly, what journalists said about the American bishops in 2002 applies to Vatican officials today: They still don’t get it.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: james-w-anderson8230 - May. 09, 2018 12:55 AM ET USA

    When is the Pope going to sentence himself to a life of prayer and fasting for his crimes of facilitating and covering up of sex abuse of children?

  • Posted by: [email protected] - May. 08, 2018 10:40 PM ET USA

    Sadly he is still part of the problem. His inability to lead, failure to provide clarity when needed, and his propensity to create chaos shows he should resign and bring peace and direction back to the flock.

  • Posted by: vpereda471205 - May. 08, 2018 6:55 PM ET USA

    I am from Guam and very familiar with former Archbishop Apuron who fled from Guam two years ago immediately after child sexual abuse allegations were made against him and has never returned. He was immediately suspended by Pope Francis and eventually replaced by Archbishop Michael Byrnes. He underwent a canonical trial and was found guilty of unspecified charges which include child sexual abuse. He is not expected to ever return to Guam in any capacity as a cleric.

  • Posted by: buffcody9140 - May. 08, 2018 6:27 PM ET USA

    My sense of this from some reading (Register?) that I did today is that it was the Neocatechumenal Way folks who invited the guests, and no one checked the Vatican's desires. My sense also is that this is the way the group has and continues to deal. The bishop was a special supporter of the group. Not surprising he got an invite.

  • Posted by: grateful1 - May. 08, 2018 6:10 PM ET USA

    At best, this action was clueless and oblivious; at worst, it was yet another example of this pontiff speaking out of both sides of his mouth. Either way, the Church is profoundly damaged by it.

  • Posted by: Frodo1945 - May. 08, 2018 10:45 AM ET USA

    I agree, what a mixed message. The verdict is in, regardless of the appeal.

  • Posted by: phil L - May. 08, 2018 9:37 AM ET USA

    You can't blame the media in this case. It was the Vatican that announced the archbishop's conviction.

  • Posted by: Cory - May. 07, 2018 10:57 PM ET USA

    How to make sense of it? Perhaps the apology as a lie and this is the truth.

  • Posted by: feedback - May. 07, 2018 6:32 PM ET USA

    There isn't a good explanation for this and for so many other Francis' decisions. The next Pope will have much cleaning up to do, but he will enjoy enthusiastic support of all the "rigid" Catholic clergy and laity.

  • Posted by: dfp3234574 - May. 07, 2018 5:39 PM ET USA

    I have to disagree with you on this one, Phil. We do not know all the details of the Apuron case, and there is no way to know that media reports are trustworthy. (They often aren't.) As far as the event, there looks to be at least 50-60 bishops and other dignitaries on stage. To say Apuron was "given a prominent role" for merely being seated is a stretch. This post has an awfully mean spirit to it. I don't like it. "They still don't get it"? No, I think the Vatican gets it pretty well, actually.