The Catholic Church has dealt with many sexual abuse scandals, but is Pope Francis actually committed to a zero tolerance policy?
In 2011, a member of the southern Chilean diocese was found guilty of sexual abuse after an investigation by the Vatican. The Vatican subsequently sentenced 84-year old Reverend Fernando Karadima to a life of “penitence and prayer” for abuses that took place over a two decade span. Although that case is considered settled, concerns regarding Karadima’s student Reverend Juan Barros have been raised by abuse victims and parishioners alike as Pope Francis seeks to tap Barros to become a bishop in the Chilean diocese. The allegations, leveled by at least three abuse victims, claim that Barros was present during instances of abuse by Karadima at the Sacred Heart of Jesus church in Santiago and failed to take any appropriate action. Such allegations have cast suspicion on Pope Francis’ zero-tolerance approach to clergy abuse cases.
Pope Francis’ zero-tolerance on clergy abuse cases began in earnest in 2012 when he intervened on the behalf of an Italian abuse victim who wrote to him. The victim, known simply as Diego, saw his allegations dismissed until Pope Francis (a cardinal at the time) elevated the case in the eyes of the Vatican. This intervention led directly to the defrocking of Naples’ Father Silverio Mura. Then in June 2014 Pope Francis met for the first time victims of childhood clergy abuse. By February 2015, Pope Francis had drafted a letter to top-ranking bishops around the globe requiring a “close and complete” cooperation with the Vatican’s then newly formed child protection commission. Subsequently, Pope Francis has been regarded as a progressive on the issue of clergy abuse, at least more so than his papal predecessors.
With the Barros appointment looming – scheduled to take effect March 21, 2015 – abuse victims advocates and some members of the Catholic Church are examining Pope Francis’ commitment to the issue. Pope Francis’ past, in which he is alleged to have declined meetings with abuse victims and failed to comply with a Vatican order to draft guidelines for handling abuse cases, may come back to haunt him. Unless the appointment of Barros to bishop is rescinded, abuse watchdog groups such as Bishopacountability.org may have more reason to cast the Catholic Church in a negative light.