Pope Francis made front pages around the world earlier this month, when he suggested that the Roman Catholic Church concentrates too much on condemnations of homosexuality, birth control and abortion.
the pope said, we should focus more on sharing Christ’s love by obeying
his command to help the poor and downtrodden.
Elsewhere, when asked about the church’s stand on gays, Francis replied, “Who am I to judge?”
the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, both of whom were
conservatives on church doctrine, the words of Francis sounded like a
major shift, especially to American ears. But Francis didn’t really
break new ground.
He only suggested that the church hierarchy has no
more right to pick and choose which of God’s commands to obey than those
Americans who are sometimes accused of being “cafeteria Catholics.”
long after making those remarks, Francis excommunicated an Australian
priest who had publicly advocated opening the priesthood to women.
much for liberal doctrine.
Francis seems to be following Christ’s example by resisting the
temptation to judge in favor of finding a way to help.
And if that’s
true, we hope Francis can find a way to ease the pain of one group of
less fortunate people: those who, as children, were sexually abused by
The turmoil that the case created in Mouton’s life and his
work is much like the divisions the revelations opened among Catholics
had served in church parishes in the civil parishes of Lafayette,
Iberia and Vermilion beginning in the early 1970s. Charges of misconduct
with children followed Gauthe from church to church until, more than 10
years after the first allegations surfaced, he was formally charged
with molesting a group of Vermilion Parish boys. He was later sentenced
to 20 years but released after only 10 years under the “good time” early
release rules in force at the time.For some, those divisions persist. And they are not alone.
the scandal unfolded, we learned that church officials in
Massachusetts, Washington state, Ireland and elsewhere followed the same
pattern. A priest would be accused of molesting a child, sometimes of
The church would seek some level of ineffective treatment
for the priest and then move him to a different church parish, all
while keeping the original accusation secret. Parents were never told
that the priest to whom they entrusted their children’s care had been
accused of molestation.
the criminal prosecutions and lawsuits began to make news, we’ve seen a
meeting of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops devoted to the
problem. Good men, like former Lafayette Bishop Harry J. Flynn, have
assured us that parents no longer need worry about their children’s
recently as last week, a priest in Argentina began serving his 15-year
prison sentence for abusing a young boy in the 1990s.
commission is examining the church’s handling of two priests, one of
whom was imprisoned for molesting an altar boy.
The other was accused of
dozens of instances of molestation and had been transferred to
different churches more than 30 times.
In the Dominican Republic, a
priest and a bishop are accused of sexually exploiting young people.
after the lawsuits, the prison sentences and the headlines, no one can
say there has been a real public accounting for the church’s handling,
or mishandling, of the sex abuse scandals, and no credible assurance
that steps are being taking to prevent such abuse from happening again.
If Francis can accomplish those things, he will have lightened the
burden on those who were victimized and protected the church’s image as a
force for good in the world.