Monday, April 1, 2013

Pope Francis' Response to Clergy Abuse in Argentina Under Scrutiny

Is the new Pope prepared to address clergy sexual abuse in the Catholic Church? Maybe not. A March 18th article in the Washington Post explores Pope Francis' anemic response to clergy sexual abuse during his time as the head of the Buenos Aires Archdiocese.

Before the papal conclave elected Pope Francis (formerly Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio) as the new pontiff, he held authority over Father Julio Cesar Grassi in the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Grassi, celebrated for his anti-poverty and education initiatives, established the Felices los NiƱos ("Happy Children") foundation to help underpriviliged youth. However, Grassi was later convicted of sexually abusing a child and sentenced to 15 years in prison. In June 2012, a court rules that Grassi should be released from house arrest, according to the Buenos Aires Herald. Grassi was reportedly never ejected from the priesthood.

According to the Washington Post, Archbishop Bergoglio refused to meet with Grassi's victims or the victims of other clergy under his authority. Even when offending clergy were arrested and incarcerated, he did not apologize to victims or offer financial restitution. The article stressed that while there is no evidence Bergoglio covered up clergy abuse, he did not act swiftly or take strong action to protect children. To boot, the Associated Press reports that Grassi is currently free pending his appeal, due in part to the Argentine church's court filing on his behalf.

Similarly, after another Buenos Aires Archdiocese priest, Father Mario Napoleon Sasso, was accused of sexually abusing children, he was sent to the La Domus Mariae  clergy rehabilitation center. Sasso was convicted in 2007, sentenced to 17 years in prison, but later paroled. Families of Sasso's victims reportedly asked to see Bergoglio, but never received a response.

Observers have expressed outrage and disappointment in Bergoglio's response. In a March 19th press release, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) demanded accountability from Pope Francis on the Grassi case.
"History, psychology and common sense suggest that Fr. Grassi is guilty, that Pope Francis is wrong, and that kids are at risk in Buenos Aires. It feels very much to us like this is yet another of the thousands of cases in which powerful Catholic officials use their vast influence to help a proven predator, rather than suffering victims and vulnerable kids."
According to Voice of Russia, Anne Barrett Doyle of Bishop Accountability said that Bergoglio was "very unsympathetic towards victims" in two priests' cases.
"What seems to have happened here is very serious. Cardinal Bergoglio seems to have basically put children in harm’s way by facilitating the freedom of Father Grassi. And first of all he has to undo the harm he has done. But also he has violated what is becoming recognized worldwide as a best practice of catholic bishops which is – to remove from the ministry any priest whose guilt has been established in child sexual abuse case.

It is absolutely shocking that Cardinal Bergoglio was so reckless and irresponsible. And we also urge him to put pressure on the current Buenos Aires Archbishop to release the records of all the credibly accused priests in Buenos Aires, to release a list of their names as it was done here in the United States."
Writing at Friendly Atheist, Sara Lin Wilde lamented that Bergoglio's response to clergy sexual abuse was all too similar to that of other Catholic leaders.
"Since the problem of molester priests is only beginning to come to light in South American Catholicism, he could have done a great deal of good by confronting it directly, setting the stage for leadership and moral clarity in those under his care. Instead, he has upheld the traditional approach: burying his head in the sand and showing reluctance to address a moral issue that should be profoundly unambiguous."
Clergy sexual abuse is a serious issue that has plagued the Catholic Church for decades (if not centuries). The Catholic Church desperately needs a pope who is willing to hold clergy perpetrators accountable and make systemic changes to prevent abuse. Given what is known about Pope Francis' response to clergy abuse in Argentina, however, I'm not holding my breath.

For additional commentary, visit the following links.

Religion Dispatches: New Report Raises Questions about Pope Francis’ Response to Sex Abuse Scandal

Buzzflash: Pope Francis’ Silence on Pedophilia and Argentina’s “Dirty War”


  1. Sad, but unfortunately not surprising.

    What I do find surprising is that super short sentences that the rare convicted priest actually has to serve. The first one you mentioned, Grassi, was sentenced to 15 years in 2010 and the sentence has been annulled. And Sasso was sentenced to 17 years in 2007 and is currently free? What the hell?

    1. Hausdorff -- It blows my mind too. What kind of message does it send to other offenders?

    2. yeah! also the victims. Imagine that against all odds the abusing priest in your life has actually been put behind bars, and then they get out after almost no time served.

  2. I think it's too early to judge Pope Francis. So far he's been impressive. Time will tell about how he handles the continuing scandals that must be addressed and handled in a manner than protects the victims at all costs.

    1. Sherry -- I hope he takes solid steps to address clergy abuse. Victims deserve no less.


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