While Pope Francis has certainly distinguished himself from his predecessors by shedding the extravagant robes, choosing the guest house instead of the official papal apartment, and refusing standard Vatican security measures such as riding in the popemobile, what is less certain is whether the current Pope will set himself apart when it comes to the continuing child sex abuse scandal facing the Catholic Church.
As a recent commentary in the Huffington Post points out, Pope Francis
has yet to devote much, if any, attention to the clergy abuse crisis. He has briefly mentioned the need to show compassion to clergy abuse survivors but his speeches have fallen short of issuing apologies or offering to meet with survivors of abuse.
On December 5 the Vatican announced a new commission on sex abuse, a group created to study ways to better protect children and to offer suggested changes.
Vague rhetoric from the top, calls for discussions of past actions, and weak suggestions to maybe make changes at some unspecified point in the future is simply not enough. Clergy sexual abuse is still a problem and Catholics now more than ever believe the Pope must address the abuse scandal. A recent poll found that 70% of Catholics
think addressing the abuse scandal should be a top priority for Pope Francis – more than think spreading the faith and promoting traditional moral values are important goals.
Naming Pope Francis “person of the year” is premature at best. It is too early to tell whether Pope Francis will succeed in addressing American Catholics’ concerns and differentiate himself by acting to eliminate clergy sexual abuse.