With the Catholic Church rocked by a devastating US report into child sex abuse , Pope Francis has this week sharpened his critcism on the explosive issue — but he remains under pressure to enact far -reaching changes .
The US grand jury report accused more than 300 “ predator ” priests in the state of Pennsylvania of abusing more than 1 , 000 children over seven decades , sparking a fresh bout of soul – searching among senior Catholics across the world .
“ The clock is ticking for all of us in Church leadership. Catholics have lost patience with us and civil society has lost confidence in us , ” Cardinal Sean O ’ Malley, the archbishop of Boston , who has been advising the pope on the issue, said in a statement last week .
The archbishop of Dublin , Diarmuid Martin , added : “ It is not enough just to say sorry . Structures that permit or facilitate abuse must be broken down and broken down forever .
Martin , who will welcome the pope this weekend on his visit to Ireland — a country where abuse scandals have dealt profound blows to the Church ’ s credibility — said he believes the Vatican ’ s commission is too small to be effective .
Amid harrowing details of abuse, the US report directs this scathing comment to the Church hierarchy : “ Priests were raping little boys and girls , and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing ; they hid it all . For decades . ”
The report once again puts the spotlight on Pope Francis , who has been criticised for not acting quickly enough to clamp down on the sprawling cases of abuse as well as for a reluctance to distance himself from certain cardinals suspected of omerta.
“ With shame and repentance , we acknowledge as an ecclesial community that we were not where we should have been , that we did not act in a timely manner , realising the magnitude and the gravity of the damage done to so many lives . We showed no care for the little ones , ” the pontiff said in his letter earlier this week .
At the end of May , the Argentinian pope wrote a letter to the people of Chile, where an unfolding abuse scandal has sparked an impassioned debate.
This week in an unprecedented letter he addressed all of the globe ’ s 1 . 3 billion Catholics about the “ atrocities ” of abuse.
– ‘Excuses aren ’t enough’ –
While Francis acknowledged the work being done in some parts of the world to protect children , he admitted that the Church had “ delayed ” in applying the necessary sanctions .
The pope “ did not , however , offer any new specifics” on possible new accountability measures , said American Vatican – watcher John Allen , noting that Francis did not make a single mention of the word “ bishop” .
“ Among great swathes of public opinion , the idea is beginning to gain traction that mea culpas , statements and meetings with victims are not enough any more , ” according to Marco Politi , an Italian Vatican expert .
“ It is now up to Francis to act as supreme legislator ” by modifying the Church ’ s canon law , Politi wrote in the Fatto Quotidiano newspaper .
He added that there were already “ virtuous examples ” in this area in the United States , Britain and Germany .
Journalist Emiliano Fittipaldi , who has carried out several investigations into the workings of the Church , told AFP that Francis could go further .
“ The pope could force bishops ’ conferences to send recent reports of abuse to judicial authorities , ” he said . “ Excuses aren’ t enough any more . ”
That is a sentiment echoed by many abuse victims .
“ We don’ t want a trial within the Vatican !” said Francesco Zanardi , leader of an Italian abuse survivors ’ association .
According to Vatican -focused blog “ Il Sismografo , ” the pope could soon publish specific guidelines for bishops on how to handle abuse claims — but the Vatican has not confirmed this .
In 2016 , Francis instigated a change in canon law which meant bishops could be removed if they were found to be “ negligent ” in the face of reports of paedophilia .
However , within Church law there is no wider requirement to report cases to the relevant judicial authorities . In certain countries this is a legal obligation but in others , bishops are loath to make it a rule .
Some commentators are also urging the Church to use its response to the crisis to undertake a reconsideration of its stance on celibacy .
In an opinion article published this week in French newspaper Le Monde , French -Canadian writer Nancy Huston appealed to the pontiff to abolish celibacy for priests and recognise the importance of sexuality for human well – being .
But even though Pope Francis said in 2014 that “ celibacy is not a dogma ” , the Vatican does not yet seem ready to take the step of ending the practice .
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