Pope Francis spoke openly about clergy sexual abuse in a recent interview with an Italian newspaper. But instead of celebrating his willingness to address the issue, some Catholics, including officials at the Vatican, worry that his comments may do more harm than good.
On Sunday, La Repubblica published its account of a conversation between the paper's founder, Eugenio Scalfari, and Pope Francis. In it, the pope addresses clergy sexual abuse, calling pedophilia a "leprosy in our house."
"Many of my collaborators who fight with me (against pedophilia) reassure me with reliable statistics that the level of pedophilia in the church is at about 2 percent. This data should hearten me but I have to tell you that it does not hearten me at all. In fact, I think that it is very grave," Francis said to Scalfari. Reuters published the translated excerpt.
Reaction to the interview ranged from difficulty proving the accuracy of the pope's 2 percent figure to disputes over how far up in the Catholic Church's hierarchy abusers can be found.
"The Vatican issued a statement saying some parts of (the) long article were not accurate, including one that quoted the pope as saying that there were cardinals among the abusers," Reuters reported.
Vatican Radio reported that Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican Press Office, has expressed concern with La Repubblica's reporting. Rebuting the inclusion of cardinals in Pope Francis' discussion of possible abusers, Lombardi explained that Scalfari is known to rely only on memory to report on an interview.
Debates over journalistic practices aside, The Washington Post reported that the interview's larger problem is its failure to address the source of the pope's statistic.
"The question of the percentage of pedophiles in the priesthood is not easily answered, even in the United States, where bishops release some data on surveys and survivors have collected significant information over the years through litigation," Michelle Boorstein wrote for the Post. "Figures vary among church leaders and outside analysts. The question in most other parts of the world, particularly in developing countries, seems completely unanswered. However, survivor advocates said two percent sounds low."
SNAP, the survivors network of those abused by priests, issued a statement about the pope's comments, expressing frustration with Francis' affinity for speaking about clergy sexual abuse rather than acting to end it.3 comments on this story
"No one benefits when the world's top Catholic official mischaracterizes the crisis, by talking often about abuse and rarely about cover up. No one benefits when he minimizes the crisis by low-balling estimates of child-molesting clerics," the statement explained.
The interview controversy comes on the heels of Francis' meeting with sexual abuse victims on July 7. Although it was his first meeting, "the Pope has always been clear in his condemnation of sexual abuse by the clergy. He previously described their actions as 'satanic,’ ” Time reported.
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