— Five years ago, the Pontiff railed against “abominable crimes that must be erased from the face of the earth…” His record since has been abysmal and even scandalous.
The largest single gathering of the Catholic Church’s hierarchical leadership to combat clerical sexual abuse and coverup closed five years ago–five years to the day, if you are reading this on Saturday, February 24, 2024–with Pope Francis calling for “an all-out battle” against “abominable crimes that must be erased from the face of the earth.”
What have we seen in the way of leadership from Pope Francis in the intervening quinquennium?
Five years of failure
Pope Francis has refused to defrock a confessed child molester or even remove him from the College of Cardinals.
Pope Francis has presided over the appalling miscarriage of justice that has allowed a powerful celebrity artist-cleric not only to escape punishment for the abuse of as many as forty-one victims over three decades but even to remain in ministry as an extern priest resident in Rome.
Pope Francis has done more.
Before the year that preceded and precipitated the gathering in February 2019 was out, Pope Francis demonized men and women who demand vindication of their right to know the true character and conduct of their rulers in the faith.
He has paid lip service to impartial justice while he promoted an unready and thoroughly compromised favorite to high office, discouraging that hapless fellow from taking the interest in the administration of justice that his very office demands.
Were Pope Francis’s every other act of governance redolent with Solomonic wisdom, these alone–one may adduce many others– would be sufficient to measure his conduct of the Church’s government and find it sorely wanting.
Watchword or buzzwords?
Responsibility, Accountability, Transparency: This was the threefold watchword of the great gathering in 2019.
The meeting itself had little in the way of a real agenda. Ahead of the meeting, Pope Francis talked a great game from one side of his mouth. From the other, he was at pains to tamp down hopes for it. The chief organizers of the meeting were about the work of managing expectations for months before the thing even opened.
Almost immediately, opportunities presented themselves for Pope Francis and other senior churchmen to prove their earnest, but there were no real takers. By 2021, it was apparent that the watchword was no more than a collection of buzzwords.
Responsibility under Pope Francis had definite form by the bottom half of 2023, when the world stood witness as the Pope’s own Commission for the Protection of Minors lambasted the Vatican for “tragically harmful deficiencies in the norms intended to punish abusers and hold accountable those whose duty is to address wrongdoing.”
That statement came the very same day France’s La Croix reported that the disgraced former Archbishop of Bordeaux, Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard, would be keeping his red hat and voting rights, and–as far as the Vatican was concerned–could keep his faculties to minister within the confines of the diocese where he resides, even though he admitted to molesting a fourteen-year-old girl.
Accountability under Pope Francis finds its most eloquent expression in his remark to the Associated Press regarding the impossibly sordid matter of Fr. Marko Rupnik: “I had nothing to do with this.”
“Nothing” was all Pope Francis had to do in order to see that his depraved olim confrère escape justice.
Francis’s late decision to change course and waive the statute of limitations behind which Rupnik had found refuge only made matters worse. The volte-face followed the explosion of worldwide outrage at news that Rupnik would be incardinated in a diocese of his native Slovenia after his expulsion from the Jesuits for disobedience.
Transparency under Francis was a Catholic bishop–Michael J. Hoeppner, insufferably emeritus of Crookston, Mn.–accused of interfering in a canonical or civil investigation into clerical sexual abuse, getting early retirement with honor and going to live with relatives in the Sun Belt.
Pope Francis allowed Hoeppner to preach at his own farewell liturgy, billed as a “Mass of Thanksgiving” for his time in office. “It’s been a real joy and a treat,” Hoeppner told the congregation in Crookston’s Immaculate Conception cathedral.
Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin
It has long since become inescapably evident that the rot in the Church’s clerical and hierarchical leadership culture is systemic. The clerical culture we have right now–without respect to ideological leanings or theological inclination–is utterly in thrall to the intrinsically perverse libido dominandi.
“The Church’s house will be clean,” this journalist wrote in the autumn of 2018–annus horribilis in which the carelessness of the hierarchy was already on garish display–the only questions then being whether Francis or Caesar would be holding the broom and whether the cleansing would come before or after the fire sale.
Those questions have not yet received a definitive answer, though the experience of the past five years has provided unequivocable indications.
The Church under Pope Francis is simply unable or unwilling to get its own house in order.
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