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Pope Francis, Help the Children Sexually Abused by Priests: Open the Vatican Archives
by Bill Berkowitz
Thursday Feb 20th, 2014 8:21 AM
With so many difficult issues to deal with, Pope Francis has recently been handed a golden opportunity to deal with one of the most vexing of those issues: Child sexual abuse by Catholic priests, and its aiding and abetting and subsequent cover-up by Catholic Church officials.
Pope Francis, Help the Children Sexually Abused by Priests: Open the Vatican Archives

Now that the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has delivered its report condemning the Vatican for aiding, abetting & covering up the Church's sexual abuse scandal, WWPFD (What Will Pope Francis Do)?


Since Pope Francis (formerly Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina) took dominion over the Holy See, there has been much speculation about which direction he might move the Catholic Church; how he was going to modernize and make the Church more accessible to more people.

Liberals have lauded him for his comments about income inequality and his openness and apparent willingness to usher in a new way of going about the business of being Pope. Some conservatives, however, have scorned him for his economic pronouncements, while maintaining that he isn't focusing enough on such culture war issues as birth control, homosexuality, and abortion.

With so many difficult issues to deal with, he has recently been handed a golden opportunity to deal with one of the most vexing of those issues: Child sexual abuse by Catholic priests, and its aiding and abetting and subsequent cover-up by Catholic Church officials.

The most prudent move for Pope Francis to make in this regard is to accept the recommendations of the report by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child and, at the same time, open up the Vatican archives.

UN report on sexual abuse urges action

"The committee is gravely concerned that the Holy See has not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed, has not taken the necessary measures to address cases of child sexual abuse and protect children, and has adopted policies and practices which has led to the continuation of the abuse by and the impunity of the perpetrators," the report states.

The panel, according to The New York Times, "demanded that the Vatican open its archives to identify abusers and that it hold accountable those who had concealed abuse and it knowingly allowed abusers continued contact with children."

In a recent Real News Network interview Kirsten Sandberg, Chairperson of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, pointed out that the report covered the past 19 years, which was the last time that the Vatican reported to the Committee on the Rights of the Child.

Sandberg was asked to respond to assertions by a Vatican representative that it "has carefully delineated policies and procedures designed to help eliminate such abuse."

Sandberg: "Well, they're defending themselves now, because they've started to take some measures. They have given guidelines to all bishops that they should cooperate with law enforcement authorities and things like that, which is very good. So that's really a positive beginning, I think. But we really need to see the results on the ground. And we haven't yet got all the data from the Holy See, so we don't yet know what they have been doing and how they have actually reacted. They have also covered up this for many years."

According to Sandberg, it is extremely "disturbing" that while we know of the tens of thousands of cases of children who were sexually abused in some parts of the world, there are other parts of the world where we don't know "whether it's still going on, for instance in Eastern Europe, and we don't know whether it's still going on also in the countries where it has been revealed, because a lot of this might still be happening but without anybody knowing."

Sandberg pointed out that, "there's been a lot of support worldwide from victims and from others." But, Sandberg notes it appears that "the Holy See, as far as I've understood, are quite reluctant to accept our recommendations," despite their being "open to this in the dialog we had with the Holy See."

Vatican upbraids UN Committee

"This committee has not rendered a good service to the United Nations," Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, head of the Vatican delegation to U.N. organizations in Geneva, told Vatican Radio.

A Newark Star-Ledger Editorial pointed out that while it wasn't surprised by any of the findings about "systemic rape and cover-ups," it was surprised by "the church's response": "outright criticism of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, which conducted the inquiry, coupled with the tired 'if you're not with us, you're against us' defense the church reserves for its strongest critics."

The Editorial maintained that "At its lowest point, the Vatican's response accused the committee – a panel of independent experts on global children's issues, not UN member states – of being co-opted by gay rights and gay marriage supporters."

The Star-Ledger also pointed out that the report provides the Vatican with "an opportunity for the Holy See and Pope Francis to finally get it right – and to craft a concrete, meaningful response that addresses the church's past crimes, punishes the guilty, compensates the victims and, finally, sets a path that provides for the safety of future generations of Catholic children."

As expected, conservative Catholic groups were outraged by the UN report. "It shows a certain ignorance of how the church works," said Ashley McGuire of The Catholic Association. "They don't just change canon law. The church's teachings, many of them are thousands of years old and are grounded in deep moral principle. To just fire a shot off the bow and not look at the actual reality of the last 10 years seems totally unfair and undermines the credibility of the report."

"It's disingenuous for Catholic officials to trot out the 'religious freedom' canard when confronted with uncontroverted evidence of massive wrongdoing," said Barbara Dorris, outreach director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "The vast bulk of the United Nations panel's findings have nothing to do with birth control, homosexuality, abortion or doctrine."

In December, Pope Francis named a panel to advise him on dealing with the sexual abuse scandal. It remains to be seen whether the Pope will recommend that the archives be opened to independent investigators, a move that could reveal what the Church knew and when it knew it.