Priest Abuse Victims Group Skeptical of New Pope

A protester shows her anger at the Catholic Church's response to sexual abuse by priests.  AP

A protester shows her anger at the Catholic Church’s response to sexual abuse by priests. AP

ROME- Not everyone in Rome was celebrating the installation of Pope Francis on Tuesday. As world leaders and interfaith clergy gathered to congratulate the new pope, members of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), wanted to be sure that their voices were heard as well.

“Obviously the new pope is a brilliant man, a likeable and approachable man, that doesn’t necessarily guarantee reform,” David Clohessy, the executive director of the group, said in an interview Monday night. “We hope he can prove us wrong but we don’t see a lot of evidence that he can be that tough disciplinarian.”

In the weeks following Pope Benedict XVI’s surprise resignation in late February, SNAP has held briefings with victims to ensure that sex abuse is high on the agenda for the next pope. Clohessy, a community organizer from Missouri, was in Rome to introduce abuse victims to members of the press.

Abuse advocacy groups worldwide aren’t happy with what they are seeing, so far. They note that, despite repeated requests, the new pope has not met with victims of abuse, although he has met with one Cardinal who is closely associated with the sex abuse scandal in the United States.

Soon after being named Pope on March 13th, Francis met with Cardinal Bernard Law, the former archbishop of Boston. Law retired in disgrace in 2002 for his role in concealing child sex crime cases by more than 100 priests.

The meeting angered many advocacy groups who believe that the new pontiff’s reaching out to Cardinal Law doesn’t send the right message.

“The pontiff is an extremely smart man,” said Clohessy. “He must have known the hurt that he would cause to already wounded victims and still disillusioned Catholics by this insensitive act.”

Peter Iseley, SNAP’s Midwest director based in Chicago, believes this is an important reason for why the new pope should meet with victims sooner rather than later.

“Surely if the new pope can meet with Cardinal Law from Boston who symbolizes everything that’s wrong with the Catholic Church and the cover up, surely he can meet with victims of priest sexual abuse,” said Iseley at a news conference shortly after the meeting.

Skepticism of Francis’s ability to handle sex abuse has grown since an article published in the Washington Post on Monday reported that he was quiet on abuse cases as archbishop of Buenos Aires.

Francis’s association with the Society of Jesus, commonly known as the Jesuit religious order founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola, is also a cause for concern with SNAP. They believe that orders like the Jesuits are even more secretive when it comes to concealing child sex crimes than bishops.

“Many religious orders specifically focus on children, on schools and universities like the Jesuits do,” said Clohessy. “So they’re more secretive on issues of sex abuse and sex crimes simply because they can be.”

Unlike diocesan priests who report to a bishop, Jesuit priests also report to their superiors in the religious order who have the authority to move them to and from dioceses and even out of a country—if necessary.

One hundred and forty-six Jesuit priests in the United States currently stand accused of sex crimes, according to the watchdog group BishopAccountability.org.

SNAP routinely urges those with knowledge or suspicions of child molestation to contact secular authorities, not church figures, who they believe are inclined to protect the clergy before abuse victims.

Several advocacy groups, including SNAP, have written to the pope in hope of having a meeting to discuss how to stop and prevent future cases of sex crimes.

Clohessy says his group must at least try though it isn’t hopeful for any substantive change.

“We’re not interested in a meeting that’s depicted as a PR stunt or about healing,” said Clohessy referring to Benedict’s carefully choreographed meetings with abuse victims. “We want to meet with him to talk specifically and concretely about what we can do right now to better protect kids across the globe from child molesting clerics.”

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One Response to “Priest Abuse Victims Group Skeptical of New Pope”

  1. Kimberly Winston
    March 20, 2013 at 8:44 pm #

    Good balance to the other stories of joy and celebration.

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