I went to Catholic school my entire life until college. My ancestor built the first Catholic church in my hometown of Grand Coteau. I received four out of the seven Holy Sacraments. My mom teaches at a Catholic school. I select “Catholic” when filling out admissions and surveys, but I only go to Christmas and Easter mass with my family. I’m not a practicing Catholic, but I have a deep-rooted appreciation for it.
In 2002, The Boston Globe broke the bombshell story about child sex abuse and cover-up by priests and bishops. Since then, thousands of similar incidents have come to light. To say that it is one of the most horrible blemishes on the Church in its 2,000-year history is putting it lightly.
At the end of February, Pope Francis gave a speech to the Vatican Summit on Child Protection. It was shameful and fell far short of the reparations he needed to make. He failed to be utterly transparent about the Church’s role in perpetuating abuse. In short, he managed to play the victim on behalf of the church.
This speech offered the opportunity for the Church to make real strides in public opinion. Thanks to the work of journalists and lawyers around the world, the Church can’t hide behind excuses or a curtain of secrecy that allowed abuse to continue for decades, perhaps even centuries. Nothing can ever repair the damage done to thousands of lives.
“I make a heartfelt appeal for an all-out battle against the abuse of minors, both sexually and in other areas,” Pope Francis said, hopefully with those thousands of lives in mind. But, a heartfelt appeal requires an intensive amount of self-reflection, transparency and honesty. The speech felt like an attempt to shy away from the elephant in the room.
Ever since I saw the movie “Spotlight,” which chronicles the way The Boston Globe reporters uncovered the scandal, I haven’t been able to go to church. I can’t sit in a pew and listen to a priest delivering a sermon without wondering if he played any role at all in any cases of abuse. This sentiment is felt by Catholics around the world. A better speech wouldn’t have undone anything, but I would’ve much preferred to hear Pope Francis acknowledge and own up to the Church’s mistakes.
The public trust of the church is shattered beyond repair. The first step to regain any trust, in any situation, is to acknowledge all wrongdoing. There are documents held in the Vatican that could reveal so much more than we already know. The Church refuses to make them public. That is unacceptable.
Pope Francis cannot claim to be a leader in the fight against abuse of minors whenever he continues to play an active role in one of the most tragic and shameful cases in modern history. He should’ve used the opportunity to at least accept accountability for his role. A confession, if you will, would have been far more appropriate.
James Smith is a 22-year-old mass communication senior from Grand Coteau, Louisiana.