Papal silence on abuse, so far

September 24th, 2015

Thousands thronged the streets of Washington, D.C., cheering the beginning of Pope Francis’s U.S. visit on Wednesday. I wonder how many survivors of sexual abuse by Catholic priests were among them. And I wonder how many in the cheering throngs believe that what abusive priests did and how the Catholic church responded still matters.

“I think the Church would like people to think this is over,” Sister Maureen Paul Turlish told The Independent on the eve of the Pope’s U.S. visit. “It’s not over.”

Sister Turlish is a member of Catholic Whistleblowers, a group of allies for those who have survived acts of sexual abuse committed by Catholic priests. Its members include current and former priests, nuns and Catholic laity who are committed to exposing the cover-up of abuse facilitated by Catholic leaders.

So far, the euphoria surrounding the papal visit appears to be drowning out the voices of abuse survivors and their allies. The major networks are providing exhaustive media coverage of its pomp and rituals.

Commentators are rhapsodic about Pope Francis and his humble, accessible style. He visits the homeless and prisoners. And so far, he has refused to live in the Apostolic Palace, the residence of popes for over a century. Instead, he’s made the Vatican guesthouse his home, living in community with Vatican employees.

The pope’s tone also excites many in the media and general public. He’s expressed acceptance of gay persons and wants the Catholic church to be more sympathetic toward women who’ve had abortions.

I can understand why the estimated 50 million-plus American Catholic adults would be excited about this pope’s visit. He is a breath of fresh air, even for a life-long committed Protestant like me.

But I catch a whiff of something tainted as I wait to see if this pope will bring the full weight of his office down on abusers and the facilitators of abuse. To me, this means not only the harshest penalty that the Catholic church can bring — which I believe is excommunication — but assisting any and every law enforcement agency in the world in pursuing and prosecuting pedophile priests and any church leader who enabled them.

The pope will be in the U.S. until Sunday. Survivors and their families and allies will be waiting to see what he does before he leaves.

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