Sexual abuse and Francis’ call for a “total battle” against pedophilia in the Church

Pope Francis called for a “total battle” against pedophilia and sexual abuse in the church (REUTERS) (POOL /)

The sexual abuse perpetrated by members of the Catholic Church, especially cases where the victims were minors, began to publicly exploit when John Paul II was still alive. Not only that, but the schemes and manipulations to cover them up came to light.

The Catholic Church has been rocked by countless scandals of child sexual abuse in the last three decades. An independent investigation published in October 2021 revealed that there were some 216,000 victims of sexual abuse, in cases committed by the clergy of France between 1950 and 2020. In Australia, a high-level investigation into institutional child sexual abuse found in 2017 that 4,444 alleged incidents of abuse they had been denounced to the authorities of the Church. On almost no occasion were they investigated.

A study of the German Bishops’ Conference in 2018 found that 1,670 clergymen had committed some form of sexual assault against 3,677 minors between 1946 and 2014. It was clarified that it was very likely that this number was just the tip of the iceberg, and that the real cases were surely many more. In USAin one of the perhaps best-known investigations, the newspaper The boston globe revealed the massive scale of sexual abuse of children in the Diocese of Boston and the subsequent cover-up.

There came a point where the accumulation of testimonies and global outrage meant that the Vatican could no longer look the other way. Intense media coverage of pedophile priests led to a greater scrutiny of Church practices is necessary.

Benedict XVI he pushed through revolutionary changes in church law to make it easier to oust predatory priests, firing hundreds of them, as well as being the first pontiff to meet with abuse survivors. Despite these advances, many of the victims believe he fell short. “In our view, Pope Benedict XVI is taking decades of the church’s darkest secrets to his grave with him,” he told Associated Press SNAPthe leading US-based group for clergy abuse survivors.

For this reason, after his resignation, the one who had to raise the gauntlet went to Francisco. The biggest setback in his fight against abuse within the Church was when he appointed Juan Barros as bishop of the Chilean diocese of Osorno in 2015, even though it had been Companion of the best known pedophile priest in the South American nation -Fernando Karadima– and having been pointed out by the victims, who said they witnessed what was happening and ignored the abuse.

Francisco defended Barros during his trip to Chile in January 2018: “The day they bring me evidence against Bishop Barros, I will speak. There is not a single piece of evidence against him. Everything is slander. Is it clear?”

The outrage in Chili and abroad grew. Returning to the Vatican, Francis ordered an investigation that determined that he had been misinformed about the case. He apologized to the victims and admitted “serious mistakes” after reading a 2,300-page report on the abuses in Chile.. On June 11, 2018, Barros had to resign from the bishopric.

Bishop Juan Barros in Osorno, south of Santiago de Chile (REUTERS / Carlos Gutiérrez)
Bishop Juan Barros in Osorno, south of Santiago de Chile (REUTERS / Carlos Gutiérrez) (REUTERS /)

In February 2019, Francis convened a summit of Church leaders that ended with a call “to an all-out battle against child abuse” and insisted that the institution needed to protect children “of predatory wolves”. Weeks after that meeting, he issued a new canon law, requiring for the first time that Church officials report the abuse charges to Vatican prosecutors. Francis then issued a rule that it required all officials to report allegations of abuse or attempts to cover it up to their superiors.

In December 2019, the Vatican said that would abolish the high level of secrecy it has applied to allegations of sexual abuse against clergyending a policy that had shielded priests from criminal punishment: By removing that cloak of confidentiality, the Roman Catholic Church made it acceptable — though not mandatory — to turn over information about abuse allegations to the courts.

These restrictions had further exacerbated decades of abuse and discouraged victims from coming forward, as well as facilitating cover-ups. But the Vatican had previously argued that the imposition of pontifical secrecy was necessary to protect both the victim and the accused.

In June 2021, a team of UN special rapporteurs for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) strongly criticized the Vatican, accusing it of obstructing and not cooperating with legal proceedings in child sexual abuse cases in Catholic institutions. They also said they were concerned about measures taken by the Church to “protect alleged abusers, hide crimes, obstruct the accountability of alleged abusers, and evade compensation due to victims.”

That same month, Pope Francis updated the penal code of the Catholic Churchthe Code of Canon Law. The change made headlines around the world: it added directives to punish crimes of sexual abuse of minors by priests. This reform had been sought for years by victims and activists against pedophilia.

The “Zero Tolerance March” of sexual abuse, held in 2019 (REUTERS / Yara Nardi) (Yara Nardi /)

The revision of the criminal sanctions came after repeated complaints from victims of sexual abuse and others that the previous wording of the code was outdated and lacking in transparency. The new code does not explicitly detail sexual crimes against minors, but refers to crimes against the sixth commandment, which prohibits adultery. It says that a priest will be removed from his office and punished “with other just penalties” if he commits such crimes with a minor. The priest who induces or induces a minor to “expose himself pornographically or to participate in pornographic exhibitions” will also be punished.

“The new text introduces various modifications to the current regulations and sanctions some new criminal offenses, which respond to the increasingly widespread need in the different communities to see justice and order restored that the crime has shattered,” Francisco wrote. The changes went into effect in December 2021.

Francis was elected pope a decade ago especially because of his willingness to reform the Vatican bureaucracy. Since his appointment, he has met regularly with a cabinet of cardinal advisers who help him draft these changes to put them into effect, as the Praedicate Evangliumwhich gives new institutional weight to efforts to combat sexual abuse in the Church.

The document was published in March 2022, during the ninth anniversary of his papacy. At the end of January, approaching his tenth year as pontiff, Francis acknowledged during an interview with PA that the Catholic Church still has a long way to go to deal with the problem. He said of her approach to child abuse cases: “No loose reins with minors, reins get pretty tight”.

Keep reading:

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