This week, the Vatican changed its internal laws to force its bishops to punish severely abusive priests.
It is impossible to talk about this change in posture without returning to Fernando Karadima, a Chilean priest who has had a relationship with children and adolescents, aided by the complicit silence of peers. The first suspicion dates from 1955.
One of the young men who denounced him years later, the current gastric surgeon James Hamilton, says that after the sexual assault, the parish priest told him to go to confession with another clergyman, who told him simply said, “Be patient, don’t worry.”
Hamilton was not patient, he was worried, he went public with the matter, and Karadima became a symbol of the Vatican’s leniency towards the sexual predators of the cassock. It is his example that many cite to argue that Pope Francis may have even taken some steps to overthrow the culture that preferred to remain silent rather than tackle the harassment of priests. But have you done enough?
In the Chilean case, certainly not, and Francisco himself knows it, says the Vaticanist Filipe Domingues, doctor of social sciences at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. “He himself recognizes that this was the lowest point of his pontificate.”
The papal reaction was to question the words of victims like Hamilton. The Catholic Church has been silent for years on the allegations. When the pontiff visited Chile in 2018, he was angered by journalists’ questions about Juan Barros, a bishop accused of hiding his mentor Karadima. “There is not a single evidence against [Barros]. Everything is slander.
Francisco apologized and the following year the Holy See held a meeting with 114 presidents of episcopal conferences (institutions such as the Brazilian CNBB) to discuss the protection of minors.
Whether through “denial” or “criminal and malicious complicity,” silence was no longer an alternative, said Archbishop of Malta Charles Scicluna, a 007 guy sent by the Vatican to investigate episodes like that of the Chile at the time.
On Tuesday (1), the Holy See published a long-awaited revision of its canon law. One of the most relevant changes has changed the treatment of sex crimes.
According to Catholic Church law, mistreating minors or vulnerable adults and using positions of authority to force sexual acts is no longer a simple violation of chastity: it is a crime against human dignity, and the punishment must be severe.
Which brings us back to the question: Did the Pope work to stem a scourge that for decades has plagued the structure of the church?
The degree of optimism will depend on the interlocutor. Anne Barrett Doyle’s is not very tall.
“For Catholics who want an honest church, Francis has been a disappointment,” said the co-director of Bishop Accountability, an NGO that documents clergy sex scandals.
“We expected him to be a reformer because his words gave us hope. He was the first pope to say that bishops should be held accountable, and he vowed to ‘never again’ to the culture of concealment. “
Theory and practice, however, went both ways, according to Doyle. “His process of investigating and punishing troubled bishops is secret from start to finish. It requires that every decision-maker be at or above the bishop’s level. No priest, and certainly no layman, is allowed to have an authoritative role in judgment. of an accused bishop.
There are many examples of severe penalties against members of the high clergy accused of concealment or abuse. The former Archbishop of Washington Theodore McCarrick is one of them: he was expelled by the Pope in 2019, found guilty of “breaking the sixth commandment”. [que proíbe o adultério] with minors and adults, with the aggravating circumstance of abuse of power “.
For Doyle, this is still too little. “Apart from McCarrick, no bishop has been publicly denounced. Francis removed some bad bishops from office, but their punishments were moderate.”
It also advocates “radical transparency”, defined by the victims and not by the oppressors. “For healing, church leaders must relinquish power not only through structural change, but through the dissemination of information.”
This would include a papal ordinance for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the body of the Roman curia, to release the names and records of the approximately 4,000 clergy the church has found guilty of child sexual abuse. . “The Pope could be responsible for his own negligence case in Argentina,” Doyle said.
Jorge Mario Bergoglio was Archbishop of Buenos Aires from 1998 to 2013. During those years he “has not published any documents, no names of accused priests, no counts of accused priests, no policies to deal with abuses, not even an apology to the victims, ”explains the chapter bearing his name on the Bishop Accountability website.
Church authorities in the United States and Europe, and even Popes John Paul II and Benedict 16, during the period groped for an approach to sexual violence against minors. So there was an opening for it.
Another memory: Francisco had Cardinal George Pell as his right-hand man. The former Vatican treasurer has been sentenced to six years in prison by two levels of Australian justice.
In 2020, however, the country’s highest court overturned Pell’s sentence on charges of abusing two members, aged 12 and 13, in a cathedral choir.
Pell was imprisoned for over a year and wrote a book from prison in which he stated as the reason for his conviction “my social conservatism and the defense of Judeo-Christian ethics have exacerbated popular hostility, in especially among secular activists ”.
Already at the beginning of his pontificate, Francisco was concerned by the subject, says the Vaticanist Filipe Domingues. A year after taking the helm of the church, he created the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.
Named as a member Marie Collins, who was 13 when a chaplain raped her and took pictures of her, who was in a hospital. “He told me he was a priest, he didn’t do anything wrong. You know, I was a kid of the 1950s. I believed it, ”recalls Collins, 74, in 2017.
Three years later, the septuagenarian left the group complaining of too few resources and too much cultural resistance to implement sweeping changes in the church.
“Recently, a survivor from Chile who is homosexual was appointed to the commission,” recalls Domingues. Juan Carlos Cruz was one of the victims of Father Karadima.
Besides the structural question, which are the mechanisms available to the Holy See to put an end to abuses, there is also the cultural question, says Domingues. Defines it like this: “Understand that [o crime], when it happens in church, it is much more traumatic, because it is an environment that must be safe. This is where people become fragile, and this [os sacerdotes] they do is use that fragility to abuse it. “
For the Vaticanist, the papacy of Francis is not unaware of any of these points.
In 2020, under its tutelage, the Vatican published a kind of manual “which intends to take the hand and guide step by step” those who need to “translate into concrete actions the canonical rules concerning cases of sexual abuse of minors committed. by clerics “. .
These are straightforward instructions, such as the exact recognition of crimes that have tarnished the reputation of the church: “Sexual relations (with and without consent), sexual physical contact, exhibitionism, masturbation, production of pornography, induction to prostitution, conversations and / or propositions of a sexual nature, including through the media “.