On plane, pope discusses sex abuse, corruption of cover-up, China pact

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

THE PAPAL FLIGHT TO ROME (CNS) — The Catholic Church has grown in its
understanding of the horror of clerical sexual abuse and of the “corruption”
of covering it up, Pope Francis said.

to Rome from a trip Sept. 22-25 to the Baltic nations, Pope Francis was asked
about his remarks to young people in Tallinn, Estonia, when he said young
people are scandalized when they see the church fail to condemn abuse clearly.

young people are scandalized by the hypocrisy of adults, they are scandalized
by wars, they are scandalized by the lack of coherence, they are scandalized by
corruption, and corruption is where what you underlined — sexual abuse —
comes in,” the pope responded.

the statistics say about rates of clerical abuse, the pope said, “if there
is even just one priest who abuses a boy or a girl, it is monstrous, because
that man was chosen by God to lead that child to heaven.”

fact that child abuse occurs in many environments does not in any way lessen
the scandal, he said.

it is not true that the church has done nothing “to clean up,” Pope
Francis told reporters. If one looks at the Pennsylvania grand jury report
released in August or other similar studies, he said, it is clear that the
majority of cases occurred decades ago “because the church realized that
it had to battle it in a different way.”

olden times these things were covered up — but they were covered up also in
families, when an uncle abused his niece, or a father raped his child; it was
covered up because it was a very great shame,” Pope Francis said. “That
was how people thought in the last century.”

understand what happened in the past, he said, one must remember how abuse was
handled then.

past should be interpreted using the hermeneutic of the age,” Pope Francis
said. People’s “moral consciousness” develops over time, he said,
pointing to the death penalty as an example.

he said, “look at the example of Pennsylvania. Look at the proportions and
you will see that when the church began to understand, it did all it could.”

fact, the pope said, he has encouraged bishops to report cases to the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and he “never, never” granted
amnesty to a priest found guilty of abuse.

Francis did not mention by name Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the former
nuncio to the United States, who claimed that Pope Francis knew of and ignored
the sexual misconduct of former Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick. And the
journalists’ question about Archbishop Vigano was never asked because the pope
insisted that most of the questions be related directly to his trip to
Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

the pope did say that “when there was that famous statement from an ex-nuncio,
bishops from the whole world wrote to tell me they were close to me and praying
for me.”

of the letters, he said, came from China and was signed jointly by a bishop
from the government-controlled Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and a
bishop from “the, let’s say, traditional Catholic Church.”

also asked the pope about the Vatican-China agreement for the nomination of
bishops, which was announced Sept. 22 while the pope was in Lithuania, and
about the suffering of Chinese Catholics who had risked their lives to remain
faithful to the pope and not accept the communist government’s control over the

Catholics in China “will suffer” and feel betrayed, he said, “but
they have great faith” and in the end will trust the pope.

Francis praised the team of Vatican negotiators who worked “two steps
forward, one step back” for 10 years, but he insisted he bore all
responsibility for the agreement and, especially, for regularizing the
situation of seven bishops who had been ordained without Vatican approval.

every “peace treaty” and every negotiation, he said, “both sides
lose something” and for the Vatican that was complete control over the
nomination of bishops.

he said, people should remember that for centuries the kings of Spain and
Portugal nominated the bishops of Latin America, and the Austro-Hungarian
emperors did the same in their territory.

new Vatican-Sino agreement, Pope Francis said, sets up “a dialogue on
eventual candidates” for dioceses in China, “but the naming is the
pope’s — let that be clear.”

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Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden

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