New York, 21 September, 2015 – Today, representatives from three organizations held a press conference at the United Nations in advance of the Pope’s visit to urge the Vatican to take concrete steps to address the crisis of sexual assault and its cover-up in the Catholic Church.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) is a volunteer self-help organization of survivors of sexual violence and their supporters. With members in 71 countries, SNAP works to protect the vulnerable and heal the wounded. They issued the following statement:
While making great strides in improving church finances, governance and morale, Pope Francis makes no strides toward improved children’s safety. He can do a little to stop climate change, political strife or the throngs of refugees traveling towards Europe. He can do lots, however, to stop clergy sexual violence and cover-ups. But only if he summons the strength to stop talking about clergy sex crimes and cover-ups and starts preventing them.
Francis often talks of mercy. He’s right to do so. But hundreds of thousands of innocent boys and girls have been raped by priests, nuns, bishops, and seminarians because of excessive mercy shown to criminal clerics by their complicit colleagues. Mercy won’t protect children from child-molesting clergy.
Francis often talks of “the marginalized.” He’s right to do so. But he’s content to tinker around the margins of this continuing crisis while more children are marginalized and assaulted every day by priests, instead of attacking the crisis head-on with decisive action.
Francis often talks of international cooperation. He’s right to do so. But he refuses to cooperate with United Nations committee investigations. Worst, he refuses to adopt even a single one of the dozens of solid suggestions these two committees have thoughtfully made to safeguard the vulnerable in the church.
In some regards, Francis thinks nothing of abandoning centuries-old, hidebound church practices. But not in this crisis. In some regards, Francis shows bold thinking. But not in this crisis. In some regards, he takes decisive action. But not in this crisis. In this continuing crisis, the most serious one facing the church in modern history, he refuses to part from the past and present. He must overcome his timidity and show real leadership. Or else, like his predecessors, his papacy will also end up being marred by this scandal. And, worse, girls, boys, and vulnerable adults will keep on being scarred because of predatory Catholic clerics and corrupt church supervisors.
BishopAccountability.org is an archival and research group that gathers documents and data about the global crisis of sexual abuse of children within the Roman Catholic Church. They issued the following statement:
The catastrophe of child sex abuse abuse in the Catholic church has not been resolved, and an especially alarming aspect of it has been revealed recently: Priests who have been kicked out of U.S. dioceses because of child sex abuse allegations are thriving today in church assignments in South America and the Philippines, according to our global research as well as a new investigation by GlobalPost.
One reason for this devastating situation is simple: the Catholic church outside the United States has no “zero tolerance” provision for abusive priests – no one-strike-and-you’re-out rule. It exists in the U.S. church only because a tsunami of public outrage in 2002 spurred American bishops to obtain Vatican permission for a tougher measure.
Outside the U.S., however, bishops follow the church’s universal canon law, which gives them — and guilty clerics — plenty of wiggle room. Priests who molest minors are to receive “just penalties,” which can be as mild as a warning. The result is that Catholic church officials worldwide continue to give second chances to child molesters.
We urge Pope Francis to mark his first visit to the United States by announcing an end to this terrible situation. As a first step, he should pledge to enact true zero tolerance in the universal church. His new law must correct the grave flaws of the U.S. church’s version — weaknesses demonstrated by recent clergy abuse cases in Newark, Kansas City, Mo., and the Twin Cities.
In the meantime, this otherwise forthright Pope should acknowledge the gap between his promise of “zero tolerance” and his policy. “There is absolutely no place in ministry for those who abuse minors,” he said this February. Until canon law is changed, this is not true.
The Center for Constitutional Rights is a legal and advocacy human rights organization that has represented SNAP at the International Criminal Court in The Hague and the United Nations in Geneva. They issued the following statement:
Pope Francis’s public statements about the Vatican’s concern for children and other survivors of sexual assault by priests are at odds with the Vatican’s actions under his leadership. This week, amidst discussions of climate change at the United Nations General Assembly and elsewhere, he should explain the Vatican’s formal submissions to the UN committees that called them to account last spring. To the Committee on the Rights of the Child and the Committee Against Torture, they made the preposterous claim they were only responsible for what happens inside the .44 square kilometer of Vatican City and have no responsibility for what happens outside its walls. Worse, his representatives told the Committee Against Torture that rape and sexual assault by priests do not amount to torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment and refused to provide both committees with the information they had requested—once again minimizing the damage the church has caused and denying the severity of the physical and mental harm survivors live with every day. If Francis wants to truly bring change to the church, he must ensure the Vatican complies with the United Nations requests and recommendations, increase transparency when dealing with these crimes, and order all cases and reports turned over to local civil authorities for independent investigation.
The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.