Hey, Pope Francis: The Devil Is In the Detail

The Vatican summit on Catholic clergy child sex abuse ended as these things usually do, with a lot of defensive and cynical lip service from the pope that has no apparent purpose other than public relations shell games. This time, it included a lot of papal talk about the devil.

On the eve of the summit with 180 of his bishops last week, Pope Francis proclaimed that critics of the Church are “friends, cousins and relatives of the devil,” an assertion so stunningly ridiculous and tone deaf that it is hard to believe a pope uttered it with a straight face. As the summit ended, Pope Francis stated that Catholic clergy child sexual abuse is “The work of the devil.” Now, that assertion is comparatively rational on its face, until you quickly realize – as survivor and advocate Peter Gogarty did –  that “this tragedy is the work and crime of men” who ignore morality and abuse children or cover it up. The pope apparently hoped to deflect from those inconvenient details by blaming the devil again.

In fact, buried in the misdirection and pronouncements is that the pope’s summit ended with nothing that will help protect children or lead to increased Church transparency. The pope doesn’t get it or doesn’t want to. His closing speech focused on the prevalence of child sexual abuse by family members. He blamed journalists. He was defensive and displayed no sense of accountability or commitment to transparency.

“A child will be harmed today due to what the pope didn’t say today,” said Peter Isley, spokesperson for Ending Clergy Abuse, of Francis’ closing speech.

“What he’s actually saying to all bishops is to ‘keep on covering it up.’ He talks about families … well he is protecting his family. Why can’t he enact zero-tolerance into church law? He has the power to do that. The problem is his internal conflict – does he protect the priests within his family or the victims of abuse?”

At the outset of the summit, the bishops received a list of 21 “reflection points” from the pope. They are intended to provide the basis of new anti-abuse procedures for the bishops. Many of them are obvious and overdue but upon closer review they also reflect the Church’s defensiveness and self-interest. For example, buried at point number 14 is a papal pronouncement effectively discouraging bishops from releasing lists of accused clergy.

Releasing lists of accused clergy is an important part of the healing process for many survivors and increases public safety. Survivors and we are committed to demanding that bishops release full and accurate lists. In just the past two weeks, we have joined with courageous survivors to demand that the Archdiocese of New York and the Diocese of Brooklyn release full, public lists. The Brooklyn Diocese’s recent list was woefully incomplete and the Archdiocese of New York has refused to release a list, as Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York stated it was unnecessary.
That—not the papal spin from the summit—is the hard reality. Pope Francis, don’t insult by naming or blaming the devil. The devil is right there in the detail.