Pope Francis’ Enduring and Reckless Disregard for Victims of Sexual Abuse

By Betty Clermont | 21 July 2023
The Open Tabernacle

(Credit: YouTube / screengrab)

By his words, omissions and actions, Pope Francis has failed to reduce and sometimes abetted the clerical rape and sexual torture of children around the world, the persecution and deaths of women and LGBTQ+ persons in the culture wars, the suffering of Ukrainians and the persecution of people of faith in China.


“The widespread sexual violence within the Catholic Church amounts to torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment,” the UN Committee Against Torture stated on May 23, 2014.

Nine years later, a report by Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul stated “Catholic clergy in Illinois sexually abused more than 1,900 minors.” Former Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Raoul’s predecessor, began investigating the scope of state clergy sexual abuse in 2018 after a Pennsylvania grand jury report documented the abuse of 1,000 minors in that state. “The revelations in that report shocked numerous state attorneys general who pledged to investigate clergy within their own states – Illinois included,” CBSNews.com reported on May 23, 2023.

Raoul’s report “discloses the names of 451 substantiated child sex abusers and provided narratives and details on the abuse they committed while serving the Church. Some had a single victim, while others had dozens. One who died in 2015 abused 36 children … Another priest raped a 10-year-old girl in his classroom …The depth and breadth of the sexual abuse varied.”

“Nearly every survivor struggled with mental health issues, the report found, with some turning to alcohol, addiction and others having anxiety, and feelings of unworthiness … Some survivors struggled with suicidal thoughts, while others dealt with physical health and financial issues. One survivor, Terry Neary, believes that the public naming of sexual abusers [which Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich had failed to complete] is a game changer for child sexual abuse survivors,” as quoted by CBS.

“Widespread sexual violence within the Catholic Church”

“An investigation by the Spanish Catholic Church into child sexual abuse by members of the clergy and non-clerical staff has so far identified 728 alleged abusers and 927 victims since the 1940s, according to its first report,” Reuters stated on June 2, 2023. “Last year, the office of Spain’s national prosecutor wrote in a letter that the Church’s internal investigation was ‘partial’ and ‘of little use’… The issue came under a spotlight in Spain in 2021 after El Pais newspaper reported more than 1,200 alleged cases, years after sexual abuse scandals had rocked the Church in countries such as the U.S., Ireland and France,” Reuters wrote.

The global scale of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church has included not only Spain, Ireland and France, but also Australia, Canada, Chile, Portugal, the United Kingdom, the Philippines, Belgium, Germany, New Zealand, Guam, Italy, Argentina, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Colombia, India, Poland and Brazil.

In the U.S., not only Pennsylvania and Illinois but also reports by Grand Juries and Attorneys General in New York, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maine, Missouri, Colorado, Florida, Nebraska, Michigan, Georgia and Maryland had similar findings according to the BishopAccountability website.

Yet in his entire pontificate, Pope Francis has not taken a single effective action to save our children. Rather, from the beginning, he has shown his contempt for their lives.

One month to the day after his election in March 2013, Pope Francis appointed eight cardinals to be members of a council as his closest advisors. One of them was Cardinal George Pell who had made headlines in Australia for decades. As archbishop and creator of the 1996 Melbourne Response, a system “designed to control the victims and protect the Church, Pell intended to minimize the crimes, conceal the truth, manipulate and intimidate the victims. … Some relatives of abused children have called the cardinal a ‘sociopath.’”

The John Ellis case “was all about deterrence.” Ellis sued now Cardinal Pell, head of the Sydney archdiocese, in 2006 over abuse he suffered as an altar boy. Pell spent more than $1m fighting Ellis despite him asking for just a tenth of that amount in settlement, put him through “distressing and unnecessary cross-examination” and threatened him with legal costs. Pell’s “Ellis Defense” is “an exemplar of litigation going wrong, causing further trauma for a victim of abuse.”

“Pell personally knows hundreds of the people involved – the victims and their families as well as the abusers. … He was a very senior authority in the Catholic Church when the court cases began in the 1990s and the top Catholic figure in Australia until he went to Rome … He was the leader of a system that protected the guilty and failed innocent people… He was the man in charge during many years of this scandal. Therefore, he can be held accountable and responsible for it,” independentaustralia.net stated.

Pope Francis also chose Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz Ossa as another of his close advisers. Errazuriz had made national headlines for protecting Fr. Fernando Karadima, the “worst scandal” of the Chilean Church. “Power is the true point of the case. The [sexual abuses against children] were not possible without a network of political, social and religious power working for 50 years,” stated political analyst Ascanio Cavallo, Dean of the Journalism School of the Adolfo Ibáñez University.

According to court testimony in a 2011 civil complaint filed against Karadima, Errázuriz tried to shame accusers into dropping claims and failed to carry out formal investigations for years. A judge dismissed the criminal case against Karadima in November 2011 because the statute of limitations had expired but also determined that the allegations were “truthful and reliable.”

When Pope Francis, who during the above period was cardinal primate of the neighboring Argentina, appointed Errázuriz to his council, one of the claimants called it “a shame and a disgrace.” On September 15, 2013, five months after his papal appointment, Errázuriz said that the archdiocese had no responsibility for their tremendous pain.

This pontiff’s reckless disregard for the suffering inflicted by his priests and bishops continues to this day.

On July 1, 2023, Pope Francis appointed a fellow Argentine, Archbishop Victor Fernández of the archdiocese of La Plata, to head the Vatican’s Dicastery of the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF). “The pope and the archbishop know each other well; Fernández has been called one of Francis’ ‘closest collaborators,’” reported Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of BishopAccountability.org, a large online archive of documents, reports, and news articles documenting the global abuse crisis in the Church. “As DDF prefect, Fernández will have immense power, especially when it comes to judging and punishing priests who abuse children,” explained Barrett Doyle.

As Barrett Doyle stated:

In June 2018, “an article revisiting the 2008 allegations against La Plata archdiocesan priest Eduardo Lorenzo appearrd in the media outlet La Izquierda Diario . . . In August 2008, the sponsor of a teenage boy living in a group home had filed a criminal complaint accusing Lorenzo of sexually abusing the boy, then ages 14 to 16, for nearly two years.”

In January 2019, “parents of children attending a parish school in Tolosa began organizing to protest Lorenzo’s imminent transfer to their parish, citing the 2008 allegation against him.” In response to the protests, Archbishop Fernández released a statement that both the Church’s and criminal investigations reached the conclusion that the crime had not taken place. Baretti Doyle notes: “This isn’t accurate: the civil prosecutor archived the case citing insufficient evidence and a lack of merit. She did not determine that the crime hadn’t happened.”

In early February 2019, “the archbishop publicly agreed with a letter by Lorenzo accusing his detractors of ‘slanders, insults and defamations’ and that his critics had another agenda … February 24, “‘León,’ the alleged victim in the 2008 case, went public with his account of abuse by Lorenzo in the media outlet Pulso Noticias. In subsequent news accounts, León will further describe the sexual abuse he suffered, which allegedly included anal and oral rape.”

On March 25, 2019, “the prosecutor of La Plata, Ana Medina, re-opened the criminal case against the priest. Medina is the same prosecutor who archived the case in 2009.”

By July 10, 2019, “two more victims have come forward accusing Lorenzo of sexually assaulting them as minors … After the third victim came forward, Archbishop Fernández as a ‘precautionary measure’ prohibited Lorenzo from having contact with minors. Noting that his instructions are not ‘sanctions,’ however, the archbishop did not remove Lorenzo from ministry.”

“In October 2019, as the criminal case against Lorenzo deepened, the archbishop finally removed him from the parish, saying that Lorenzo had requested the leave ‘for health reasons.’”

“November 1, 2019, a news outlet reported an upcoming demonstration in front of Inmaculada Madre de Dios parish in Gonnet, where Lorenzo reportedly is still saying Mass. At this point, five victims of Lorenzo have come forward.”

“December 16. 2019, “The criminal court of La Plata ordered the arrest of Lorenzo. He was charged with corruption of minors and sexual abuse of at least five adolescents between 1990 and 2008.”

“December 17, 2019, Lorenzo killed himself. Archbishop Fernández released a brief statement, saying that Lorenzo had taken his life ‘after long months of enormous tension and suffering.’ He issued no words of comfort to the victims, saying only that he would pray for ‘those who may have been offended or affected’ by the charges against the priest.”

“For his handling of this case, Fernández should have been investigated, not promoted to one of the highest posts in the global Church.  Nothing about his performance suggests he is fit to lead [the DDF],” Barrett Doyle concluded.

Later, on July 12, 2023, catholicculture.org, quoting from the Associated Press, noted the attorney for Lorenzo’s alleged victims, Juan Pablo Gallego, charged that Fernández “worked quickly” to “interfere in the judicial investigation” into abuse allegations against Lorenzo. Interestingly, the AP reported the attorney’s remarks in their Spanish-language article but omitted them in their companion English-language article catholicculture.org pointed out.

A Brief History of Pope Francis’ Contempt for Our Children

From day one of his reign, if Pope Francis genuinely desired to protect children around the world, all he had to do was ask any expert and he would have been referred to the dozens of reports by attorneys general, grand juries, individuals, commissions, and organizations published before his election in 2013.

The reports concur that, at the least, the pontiff could have taken these actions:

  • The crime of child sex abuse should be reported to the police immediately.
  • The pope should impose ‘meaningful sanctions’ on any Church officials who fail to do so.
  • The prelates, priests, deacons, men and women in religious orders and lay employees who were credibly accused should be removed from contact with children immediately.
  • Church officials who aided, abetted or covered-up for the perpetrators must be held accountable.
  • Church officials must turn over all their pertinent documents to civil authorities.
  • Church officials must support removal of statutes of limitations – since it takes decades for victims to report their abuse – where they impede victims of child sexual abuse from seeking justice and redress.

On July 1, 2013, the United Nation’s Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) sent a request to Pope Francis for “detailed information on all cases of child sexual abuse committed by members of the clergy, brothers or nuns” for the past fifteen years and set November 1 as a deadline for a reply. The questions were sent as preparation for a public hearing scheduled for January.

The November 1 deadline came and went. Pope Francis responded to the CRC on December 4 by stating that it was not the practice of his government to “disclose information on specific cases unless requested to do so by another country as part of legal proceedings” and “that the Vatican can provide information only about known and alleged child sex crimes that have happened on Vatican property.”

A rarity, the pontiff’s response was criticized by the U.S. mainstream media. The next day, Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley stated that Pope Francis would create a special Commission for the Protection of Minors. Although the commission had no authority other than to advise the pope on ways to address the subject, the American media lauded the pontiff for taking “action.”

The failure of Pope Francis to take effective actions was evident when Rev. Hans Zollner, appointed by the pope as president of the commission in 2014, resigned on March 29, 2023. “Initially, Cardinal Seán O’Malley, appointed by Pope Francis as the new commission president, released a statement saying that Father Zollner had new duties, and thus was resigning and thanking him for superlative service,” reported the National Catholic Register. Zollner put out his own statement, a denunciation of the commission’s failures. “When there is a lack of transparency, compliance, and responsibility, it opens the door to abuse and cover up,” all of which “have made it impossible for me to continue further,” quoted the cruxnow.com website.

Continue reading here.

Reprinted with permission from the author.

Betty Clermont is author of The Neo-Catholics: Implementing Christian Nationalism in America (Clarity Press, 2009).

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