Pope Francis' 'La Repubblica' Comments On Priest Sex Abuse Are The Most Candid Yet
Just a week after he met with six victims sexually abused by priests, Pope Francis has found himself in the middle of another clerical controversy. An Italian newspaper claimed Pope Francis called Catholic clergy pedophiles — two percent of them, to be exact. The newspaper, La Repubblica, published an interview with the holy see on Sunday, but the Vatican is currently trying to prove the validity of these quotes.
According to CBS News, the translation of Francis' alleged quotes says:
The two percent of pedophiles are priests, and even bishops and cardinals. And others, even more numerous, know about it but keep quiet, they punish without saying the reason why. I find this state of things untenable and it is my intention to confront it with the severity it requires.
The pontiff also allegedly described the Catholic Church's widespread sexual abuse problem as having "leprosy in our house" and said as many as 1 in 50 clergy are pedophiles. Vatican Radio adds that Francis condemned those in the church who remain silent instead of publicly denouncing these sexual abuse crimes against children.
If these alleged quotes are true, then the latter two points suggest that the holy see is aware that clerical abuse happens at all ranks in the Catholic hierarchy, and is not just a problem limited to low-ranking priests.
The La Repubblica interview was conducted by Eugenio Scalfari, a 90-year-old Italian journalist and founder of the newspaper. Scalfari is a noted atheist, and he's known to never take notes or record his interviews. Because of his reliance on memory, the Vatican is doubting the accuracy of these quotes.
Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican Press Office, released a statement warning readers of the interview's validity, though he did not refute any of the claims. Vatican Radio translated the statement as the following:
Scalfari relies only on memory as the conversation is not transcribed or recorded, nor does the Pope check or revise the article before it is published. Therefore ... one must not consider it an “interview” in the habitual sense of the word as the journalist’s questions and the Pope’s answers are not related “word for word”. In this regard one must be especially careful ... regarding some “quotes” that seem to affirm there are cardinals amongst the pedophiles, and that the Pope says he will find solutions regarding the celibacy of priests.
Lombardi added that Scalfari's suspect use of quotation marks — which were used at the beginning of paragraphs but never at the close — also gave him a pause. "A lapse of memory or an explicit acknowledgement the naïf reader is being manipulated?" Lombardi said.
The Catholic Church has been under fire for sex abuse for decades, but Francis has faced increasing criticism after a United Nations report called for the end of the church's "code of silence." The U.N. indictment, which was released in early 2014, concluded that the Catholic Church grossly mishandled cases of child abuse among its ranks by failing to turn alleged perpetuators over to criminal authorities. The Catholic Church, the report found, protected the rights of accused priests more than the rights of children.
The Vatican criticized the report, saying its information was out of date. But that's not to say Francis hasn't worked to crack down on the church's own sexual abusers. Just two months before the release of the U.N. report, Francis called for a commission to investigate clerical abuse within the church.
The newly created commission met last week as Francis held a private mass for six child abuse victims, then met with them one-on-on at the Vatican. It was the first time a pope has ever met with child abuse victims on Vatican grounds.
Still, many Catholic lay people believe Francis is talking the talk, but not walking the walk.
"Enough with the gratuitous and distracting denunciations of clergy sex crimes. It's time for dramatic decisions about the continuing cover ups of those crimes," Barbara Dorris of the Survivors Network of Those Abused By Priests said in a statement. "Increasingly shrill words do not save one boy from being sodomized or one girl from being raped."