Saturday, September 28, 2013

Editorial: Pope should deal with abuse scandals 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. 

Instead, 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?”

After 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.”

Not long after making those remarks, Francis excommunicated an Australian priest who had publicly advocated opening the priesthood to women. 

So much for liberal doctrine.

Still, 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 clergymen.

The turmoil that the case created in Mouton’s life and his work is much like the divisions the revelations opened among Catholics in Acadiana.

Gauthe 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.

As 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 outright rape. 

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.

Since 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 safety.

But as recently as last week, a priest in Argentina began serving his 15-year prison sentence for abusing a young boy in the 1990s. 

A British 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.

Even 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.