When Pope Francis, head of the Roman Catholic Church, was appointed in March of 2013, it marked a lot of firsts. He’s the first pope representing the Americas; first to refuse the bullet-proof limousine; first to refuse living in the Apostolic Place and he is the first pope to ever use the word “gay” rather than homosexual or similar terms. Pope Francis has expressed his plans to reform the church and change the way that the Catholic Church is viewed and operated.
Francis hopes to open the gates and welcome new followers into the Catholic Church. National Catholic Publishing recently said, “Pope Francis allows open discussion and debate in the church. He is not scandalized by disagreements, even over doctrine.” So if that is true, and he is open to debates and discussion, why did he dismiss sex abuse survivors accusing Bishop Juan Barros of covering up the cases against Rev Fernando Karadima?
On his recent visit to Chile, Francis stated on Jan. 18 that these allegations were all “calumny,” or slanderous statements. But this left Chileans and most others following the case utterly confused since the Vatican sentenced Karadima to a life of “penance and prayer” in 2011 for his crimes. Therefore, they noted, even then, that the accusations were credible enough to order an appropriate penalty.
An article by The Guardian said, “a Chilean judge found the victims to be credible, saying that while [the judge] had to drop criminal charges against Karadima because of time passed, proof of his crimes was not lacking.” So Pope Francis went back to the old Catholic staple of ignoring these serious problems and trying to sweep it right under the rug, but this time that wasn’t possible. The public was paying attention and there was no way to avoid it.
This sudden backlash the pope was facing was the first time he’s been seen negatively in a while. Americans were especially shocked by this statement because of the recent allegations of sexual misconduct in the U.S. in Hollywood and the workplace. It’s shocking that as these events were happening in the U.S., the pope made a public statement discrediting many people. Yet, he never responded to this backlash and sat back while this outrage went on.
After five days of silence from The Vatican, Pope Francis decided to send Maltese Bishop Charles Scicluna, a sex crimes expert, to investigate Bishop Juan Barros’ case. Scicluna was sent to also gather testimony from the victims and analyze all parts of the case. Whether this was done to cover the reputation of the church or out of the recognition of his wrongdoings, we might never know, but at least the action took place.
So far, Pope Francis has tried to change the Catholic Church and its image. This case is a major setback, but with some public outcry Pope Francis did take action, which the Vatican doesn’t have a history of doing. It’s common to see people of this caliber make blanket statements and never own up to their actions, but at least this pope is trying to fix his mistake. It might be a long time before we see a real change in the Vatican, but by these small actions, that are relatively big changes in the eyes of the church, we can start to see a real barrier breaking. By breaking these barriers, Pope Francis might have a shot of achieving his goal of being a pope for the people, but he needs to be truly open to debate, no matter how touchy the subject might be, even if it reflects badly on the church.