The Atlantic

Pope Francis Is Still Equivocating on the Sex-Abuse Crisis

He stands by those to whom he’s loyal but, when faced with new evidence, is also willing to change his mind.
Source: Tony Gentile / Reuters

VATICAN CITY—When the sex-abuse crisis in the Catholic Church flared up in 2002, in the waning days of Pope John Paul II, with allegations of a pattern of abuse by priests and cover-ups in the Archdiocese of Boston, it was often dismissed at the Vatican as “a Boston problem.” When it flared up again in 2010, under Pope Benedict XVI, the atmosphere at the Vatican was a mix of stonewalling and open hostility. Back then, there were new allegations in the United States, as well as new questions about how Benedict had handled some cases of predator priests in his previous roles as head of the Vatican’s doctrinal office and as a cardinal and bishop in his native Germany. Some officials decried calumnious attacks against the Holy Father. The issue was seen in terms of sin and forgiveness more than crime and punishment.

From inside the high walls of Vatican City State, I had the sense, in the years I covered the Vatican for The New York Times, that for many prelates the victims were an abstraction, far away in local dioceses, whereas the calls for more accountability by bishops—and certainly questions about what the pope knew when and what he did about it—were seen as attacks. The hierarchy circled the wagons. There was talk of Masonic plots, even Jewish conspiracies.

When the sex-abuse crisis in the Catholic Church flared up again this August, under Pope Francis, the tone from the Vatican was far less hostile toward the outside world—some officials even that priests had abused 1,000 children there over decades, when a similar report released in Germany last month found priests had abused 3,600 children over decades, when Ireland has turned away from the Church after scores of revelations of , and after the resignation this year of bishops in Chile in in that country—there’s a growing awareness that the sex-abuse crisis is of the Church’s own making, not the press’s. There’s also an awareness that it has rocked the institution’s moral authority to the core among many faithful, and that it must urgently and dramatically be repaired to restore trust in the centuries-old institution.

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