Pope Francis of the Roman Catholic Church, famously revered around the world for his more progressive stances and involvement with the poor, has proved his humility to the world. Although it appears that Pope Francis is changing how many people view the Church, he has also inherited the damage and sins of priests who have committed sexual abuse against young boys. In a statement on April 11 on the Vatican radio, he “personally ask[ed] for forgiveness for the damage [some priests] have done for sexually abused children.” Pope Francis has also set up a committee last year with the hopes of assisting clerical sex abuse victims; however, many believe, including the United Nations, that not enough has been done to fight abuse and punish the offenders. With everything that the new Pope has done to restore the reputation and appeal of the Roman Catholic Church, what I consider is whether his actions toward sexual abuse by Catholic priests will really change how many perceive the legitimacy and credibility of the Church. Although there is skepticism as to whether reforms will change perceptions, I believe that Pope Francis’ plea for forgiveness is likely to convince many disbelievers to update their views.
Accusations against the Vatican Church and its handling of sexual abuse allegations have come from organizations such as the UN committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). Many have accused the officials of the Vatican church of hiding abuse and putting the reputation of the officials above finding justice for abused children. Scandals of clerical abuse have been reported since the 1970s and 1980s, with even more uncovered in the last decade. Issues have occurred where allegations were not reported to legal authorities. Because of the lack of transparency by the Church in the past, many believe that the Vatican is not taking strong enough measures to combat abuse, help victims, and maintain the integrity of the Church.
While Popes in the past, like Pope Benedict XVI, have apologized to victims of sexual abuse, Pope Francis has gone so far as to ask for forgiveness for sexual abuse by clergy. While many may see this as insufficient, he has taken actions along with his plea that will hopefully bring sincere change to the Roman Catholic Church’s policies. Last year, a committee was formed to assist victims of clerical sexual abuse. Pope Francis has also vowed to impose sanctions against the perpetrators, as well as instructing officials to send clerical pedophiles to local police authorities rather than straight to the Vatican. The message portrayed by the Pope is one welcomed by many human rights organizations, including the UN committee on the rights of the child.
Although steps taken by the Pope are keen to change public perspective, there are still obstacles to improving the Church’s image. Despite distinct actions to fight abuse, the Vatican is still being scrutinized for its mishandling of sex abuse scandals in the past and allegedly not addressing the long standing problem within the Church. Hopefully with the oversight committee on sexual abuse created last year and Pope Francis’ appeal for forgiveness, in time, the Vatican church will be seen once again as a credible religious entity.
Marisa is a first-year student majoring in political sciennce and minoring in Arabic. She can be reached at Mc808919@wcupa.edu.