It’s impossible to justify the Catholic Church’s decision to coverup the allegations of sexual abuse by clergy members that exploded like a July 4 firecracker several years ago. Sexual abuse in any form is a heinous act and has long-lasting repercussions for the victims. Church officials did not handle the scandal or its fallout well, and the higher-up officials have never held some of the perpetrators responsible.
Given that history and those circumstances, Pope Francis deserves credit for trying to deal with the situation in his own unorthodox way. Not only did he meet with six of the victims Monday, he begged for their forgiveness and vowed to hold bishops accountable for their handling of pedophile priests.
Do the pope’s actions change what happened? No. In his remarks, the pope made no mention of the countless victims or their families around the world, or whether bishops and other prelates involved in the cover-up would be fired or demoted. But it is a start. Asking for forgiveness is one of the first steps in the long process of healing. Through his words and his actions, the leader of the Catholic Church has acknowledged that this traumatic situation took place, and that those involved will be held responsible. Again, that is an important first step. And, it is another example of the willingness that Pope Francis has shown to address difficult situations that the Church appeared to sidestep or avoid before he became the Church’s spiritual leader.
Hopefully, Pope Francis’ actions in all these situations signify a change in the old order, something that the Catholic Church desperately needs. He’s far from perfect; humans are imperfect. But the pope is willing to address challenges, not just sweep them under the rug. For that we should all be thankful.