Actions speak louder than words seems to be the phrase on many lips in light of Pope Francis’s recent apology to those who have survived sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic Church leaders. Just as his predecessors Popes Benedict XVI and John Paul II did, Pope Francis met with a few survivors of sexual abuse, this time women and men from Ireland, Germany and England. Although Vatican spokesperson Father Federico Lombardi claims that, “it was a very profound, spiritual encounter,” skeptics believe that the meetings were nothing more than a public relations stunt.
At best, it is too early to claim this as progress. At worst, it is a diversion and distraction. In our desperation to feel hope in the midst of this ongoing crisis, we hurt kids if we engage in ‘wishful thinking.’ We endanger boys and girls if we confuse words with deeds.
Pope Francis also claimed to plan to hold bishops accountable for the abuse committed under their watch:
There is no place in the Church’s ministry for those who commit these abuses, and I commit myself not to tolerate harm done to a minor by any individual, whether a cleric or not. All bishops must carry out their pastoral ministry with the utmost care in order to help foster the protection of minors, and they will be held accountable.
So how could the pope walk this talk? SNAP proposes 15 ways that Pope Francis can prove his commitment to the safety of those in his religion’s care. The list includes such requirements as instructing bishops that only licensed therapists (not nuns or priests) are permitted to deal with abuse victims, and that bishops must post the names, photos and whereabouts of “proven, admitted and credibly accused child-molesting clerics” on diocesan and parish websites. SNAP would also discourage once and future cover-ups by publicly punishing church leaders such as Cardinal Roger Mahony who sheltered abusive priests from prosecution.
The apology and these meetings come only a few months after the Vatican was questioned by the United Nations Committee Against Torture, and several months after Pope Francis announced his intentions to form a Vatican commission on sexual abuse of children. However, the commission only met for the first time in May, months after the announcement.
So while it is great that the Pope acknowledges the abuse and seems to be attempting to take responsibility for those who have been harmed by church hierarchy, it remains to be seen if these words are just that: words. Perhaps, as SNAP president Barbara Blaine said, if the Pope focused on prevention instead of forgiveness, we would all have more faith in what he says.
Simone Lieban Levine is a rising junior at St. Mary’s College of Maryland and an intern for Ms. Follow her on Twitter: @though_she_be.