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Pope Asks Forgiveness for Clergy Sex Abuse Scandal as New Letter Says He Knew, But Failed to Act

StoryAugust 27, 2018
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Pope Francis marked the first papal visit to Ireland in 39 years by acknowledging the failure by church authorities to address child abuse crimes by the clergy. But Sunday, Pope Francis faced a new bombshell accusation from a former top-ranking Vatican official who called on him to resign, releasing a 7,000-word letter claiming the pope knew about allegations of sex abuse by high-ranking Cardinal Theodore McCarrick years before they became public, and failed to punish him. McCarrick faces allegations that he coerced men training to become priests into sexual relationships and abused a teenage altar boy. Pope Francis has refused to comment on the accusations. In Dublin, we speak with Peter Isely, a survivor of childhood sexual assault by a Wisconsin priest, and a founding member of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. We also speak with Thomas Doyle, a former priest and longtime supporter of justice and compassion for clergy sex abuse victims. They’re both part of the organization Ending Clergy Abuse.

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Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We end today’s show in Ireland, where Pope Francis marked the first papal visit to the country in 39 years by acknowledging the failure by church authorities to address child abuse crimes by the clergy.

POPE FRANCIS: [translated] The failure of ecclesiastical authorities, bishops, religious superiors, priests and others adequately to address these repugnant crimes has rightly given rise to outrage and remains a source of pain and of shame for the Catholic community.

AMY GOODMAN: While in Ireland, Pope Francis also asked for forgiveness for the scandal and betrayal felt by victims of sexual exploitation by Catholic clergy.

POPE FRANCIS: [translated] In my prayer before Mary’s statue, I presented to her in particular all the victims of abuse of whatever kind committed by members of the church in Ireland. None of us can fail to be moved by the stories of young people who suffered abuse, who were robbed of their innocence and left scarred by painful memories.

AMY GOODMAN: But Sunday, Pope Francis faced a new bombshell accusation from a former top-ranking Vatican official, who called on him to resign, who called on the pope to resign, releasing a 7,000-word letter claiming the pope knew about allegations of sex abuse by the high-ranking Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of D.C. years before they became public, and failed to punish him. McCarrick faces allegations he coerced men training to become priests into sexual relationships and abused a teenage altar boy. Pope Francis has refused to comment on the accusations.

For more, we go to Dublin, Ireland, where we’re joined by two guests. Peter Isely is a survivor of childhood sexual assault by a Wisconsin priest, a founding member of SNAP—that’s Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. He traveled from Wisconsin to Ireland for the pope’s visit. And Thomas Doyle is also with us, former priest, longtime supporter of justice and compassion for clergy sex abuse victims. In 1985, he wrote the policy for bishops to handle sexual abuse. They ignored it. He was expert witness in the grand jury proceedings in Pennsylvania grand jury report on sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy members, that came out a few weeks ago. They’re both part of the organization Ending Clergy Abuse.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! While you’re both from the United States, you’re both in Dublin. Peter, explain what—the significance of this weekend and the pope’s first visit in 39 years to Ireland, and what he said to sex abuse survivors.

PETER ISELY: Well, the importance of him coming here was the opportunity he had, which was an incredible opportunity, to come here and tell the world not just that he feels bad about sexual abuse of children—because I think we all know he feels pretty bad about it—but what he’s going to do about it. And that, he didn’t tell us. And so, we’re leaving Ireland, and, once again, we have absolutely no idea what he’s going to do. And the record on what he’s done is not good at all. And I think, for survivors and for everybody, we’re way past the time where feeling bad about it—which is fine, feeling bad about it is OK. Now we’ve got to move on to what you’re going to do about it.

And you can see from the chaos that’s going on with the former papal nuncio—it’s so much confusion and so much chaos right now—you can see, really, the culture that needs to be changed is the Vatican culture. And I don’t know what confidence anyone can have in this management team, that has covered up child sex crimes, and continues to cover it up around the world, that they’re somehow going to fix it. They’re not going to fix it. Somebody else needs to fix it. And that’s why we need grand juries like Pennsylvania all over the United States, governmental commissions like Australia and elsewhere, to intervene on behalf of children around the world and do what they’re supposed to do, which is to investigate child sex crimes.

AMY GOODMAN: Pope Francis met with eight Irish survivors of clerical, religious and institutional abuse, including Paul Redmond, who said Francis spoke Spanish during the meeting and condemned corruption and cover-up within the church as “caca,” a Spanish word for human excrement.

PAUL REDMOND: Other people took a turn then, and he came back at the end and apologized to all of us for what had happened to us. And the thing that really shocked us all was that when he was talking to survivors about cover-up and corruption in Rome itself, he literally referred to these people as “caca.” And his translator, again, was kind of shocked and asked the pope to clarify. And the pope literally did some hand gestures and said, “Caca. They are filth in the toilet.” And he literally called these people [bleep]. And we were stunned with that. And we felt that that’s—that was a really important thing for him to do in the face of not just what happened in Ireland, but in the face of what’s happening around the world and the grand jury in Pennsylvania, obviously, last week, that that was a huge movement for the church. And I hope this is the start of something new within the church. There’s been a lot of false starts. There’s been a lot of empty promises and a lot of talk.

AMY GOODMAN: So, one of the people who was in the meeting with the pope, Thomas Doyle, you founded [sic] Ending Clergy Abuse. You were a priest. You’ve been recommending for decades what the church should do. What is your response to what the pope said, and what you think needs to happen?

THOMAS DOYLE: Well, first off, I was not in the meeting with the pope. Secondly, I did not found Ending Clergy Abuse. I’m a member, but I did not found it.

But I can give you my response to what he said. And it’s just more talk. I don’t care what he says. I’ve been involved in this now for over 30 years and heard, you know, every which way from Sunday they apologize, they make excuses and everything else. Well, it’s time for that—way past time for that to end and something concrete to be done, because the problem still exists. A number have said, and reflecting on these 30 years, is that they just don’t get it, and they’re not going to get it.

So, where the progress is going to happen isn’t by the church or by the hierarchy; it’s going to happen in the courts, in the United States and in other countries, where they’re facing a power they cannot control. And that power, such as in the state of Pennsylvania, is speaking loudly, and they will make moves, and things will happen that will force the church to act appropriately. And that’s the only way it’s going to happen. They’re not going to do it on their own. It’s got to be forced.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about, Thomas Doyle, what is happening now with the attack on the pope by the—is he called the papal nuncio?—the former Vatican ambassador to Washington, D.C., who’s now openly turned against the pope and said he should resign?

THOMAS DOYLE: Well, I read the letter, and I’ve known for some time that there are some fairly vocal and strong opponents to the reforms that Francis wants to bring about in a number of areas. I see the letter as primarily political, and they use the sexual abuse issue to float that boat. So, I’m really not all that concerned about that. That’s political. That’s going to probably burn itself out before too long, although there will be a lot of rhetoric about it. And I find it a bit offensive that it was a distraction from the real issue, which is the worldwide sexual abuse that’s still going on and needs much more than apologies and nonsense of that nature.

AMY GOODMAN: Peter Isely, I’m sorry I said Father Thomas Doyle had founded Ending Clergy Abuse, but it was you. Is that right?

PETER ISELY: Oh, that’s fine. That’s fine.

AMY GOODMAN: So, I wanted to ask—

PETER ISELY: Yeah, no, I mean, he could have been a founder.

AMY GOODMAN: So, I wanted to ask you about the latest news that Missouri is investigating, like Pennsylvania did, clergy abuse of children. Also, you have said that the priesthood is the only occupation in civil society where you can rape and sexually assault children and remain within your occupation. Explain. And tell us: What are the steps that—

PETER ISELY: Sure.

AMY GOODMAN: —you think need to happen now?

PETER ISELY: Sure. Well, first of all, you know, survivors are incredibly cheered, as everybody should, that finally, in places like Missouri—because, I can tell you, there’s been an immense amount of harm to children over the decades in Missouri by predator priests, and there has been a lot of cover-up, as there has been everywhere around the world. Every diocese and religious order—and states are cut up into different dioceses; religious orders are cross-geographical—has a mountain of documents detailing the sexual abuse of children, as we saw in Pennsylvania, and the cover-up of those crimes. And it’s no good for them having those documents. We need to see those documents. And I’m telling you, in every diocese around the world, that’s criminal evidence. That’s direct criminal evidence of child sex crimes and the cover-up of child sex crimes.

What I was referring to about that comment, OK—and there’s some change in the United States with church law, but for the rest of the world, under their own law—and this is the problem, and we’ve continually been saying this to Pope Francis and the Vatican, but they already know it—under their law, you can sexually abuse and assault a child, and you can remain a priest, and you can remain, if your bishop wants you to, working with children and families. Now, do you know any other occupation on Earth that you can do that?

That’s why what Pope Francis has to do, that’s why what he needed to do when he was here in Ireland—and he needed to do this already, he needed to do this a long time ago—was two things. One, he has to write into church law zero tolerance. There is not zero tolerance in the Catholic Church for child sexual abuse by clergy that have been known to abuse children. Zero tolerance does not exist in their law, so it doesn’t exist. So, that’s number one. Any priest, any cleric, any religious order person that has been found to have sexually assaulted or abused a child at any time has to be removed from the ministry and probably from the priesthood. So, that’s number one.

Number two, zero tolerance for any bishop that has been proven—and I’m telling you, all the proof is in those documents—that has been proven to have covered up for a child sex crime. Here’s a simple axiom of justice: It’s not OK to cover up for child sex crimes. Let’s start with that. And you should be removed from your position of authority as a bishop. Now, the pope was here, and Cardinal Wuerl in Washington, guess what, he’s still a cardinal. He covered up for child sex crimes in Pittsburgh. He went on national television two days before that grand jury report came out, and he knew full well what was in that report, as the Vatican did. And how could Pope Francis not know it? And he went on national television, and he was asked, “Did you transfer one of these priests, one of these abuser priests?” And he said, “That was not my process.” In other words, “No, I didn’t do it.” And then, there it all is, all the proof, one of the worst predators in Pittsburgh. And so, what does he do? There’s his signature directly on a letter to that predator, “I’m going to transfer you out of my diocese, because I know you’ve raped and sexually assaulted children for years”—and he knows it—”and I’m going to put you into Reno, Nevada.” Now, that man is still the cardinal of Washington, D.C. So, what else do you need to know with what is profoundly wrong with this system? He’s got to make that into church law, period. You can’t have zero tolerance about abuser priests if you have tolerance for bishops that cover up for child sex crimes. Because why would they remove those predator priests that they’ve been covering up for?

AMY GOODMAN: Twenty seconds, Father Thomas Doyle, what’s happening in Chile? Very quickly.

THOMAS DOYLE: In Chile, there’s an awareness on the part of the laypeople about the corruption on the part of the church hierarchy. They’re making their anger known. They’re making their anger known not only about the sexual abuse—

AMY GOODMAN: Demanding all bishops resign.

THOMAS DOYLE: —area of corruption, but in all areas of corruption. The pope demanded all the bishops to resign. He’s accepted the resignations, I think, of five or six. And so that process is going on right now. He’s trying to clean that up.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there.

THOMAS DOYLE: But that wouldn’t be a bad idea for probably the hierarchies in most countries.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank Thomas Doyle and Peter Isely. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.

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