A Catholic Church for a New Generation?

Quibbl Politics’ Sabrina Schnurr gets you up to speed on Pope Francis, the Vatican, and how they are addressing abuse scandals plaguing the Catholic Church.

By Sabrina Schnurr

Can Pope Francis Change the Catholic Church’s Tarnished Image?

A View of Rome from Atop the St. Peter’s Basilica

In April, Pope Francis hosted three victims of Chile’s sexual abuse scandal in an attempt to ask their forgiveness and listen to their suggestions. Though the past three popes have apologized to victims of sexual abuse, the situation in Chile had become noticeably destructive, forcing Pope Francis to reverse his stance on certain accusations.

Specifically, the Pope had previously defended Bishop Juan Barros Madrid, who victims say covered up the notorious abuse by the Rev. Fernando Karadima. The Pope’s remarks that he was “convinced he is innocent” prompted outrage from survivors of abuse and compelled him to issue a public apology. The Vatican’s invite to the three victims came as part of Francis’s confession of “grave errors” in how the cases had been handled in Chile.

Juan Carlos Cruz, one of the survivors, spoke privately with Pope Francis, stating that some of Chile’s bishops had used his homosexuality as a way to depict him as a lying predator. The Pope’s reported response was in line with the Vatican’s fresh take on things: “He told me, ‘Juan Carlos, that you are gay does not matter. God made you like this and loves you like this and I don’t care. The pope loves you like this. You have to be happy with who you are,’” Cruz told Spanish newspaper El País. Despite the Catholic Church’s traditional teaching that homosexuality is a sin, this is not the first time that the newest Pope has suggested a surprisingly open stance toward it. In July 2013, Francis stated, “Who am I to judge?” when asked about an alleged “gay lobby” within the Vatican. Now 87, Fernando Karadima, the man who abused Cruz, was found guilty of abuse by the Vatican in 2011.

In related news, Australian archbishop Philip Wilson, 67, was recently convicted of covering up child sex abuse back in the 1970s, making him the most senior Catholic cleric in the world to be charged. He had repeatedly pleaded not guilty to concealing the crimes of pedophile priest James Fletcher, who died in prison in 2006 while serving an eight-year sentence for nine counts of child sexual abuse. Archbishop Wilson has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and has stated he has no recollection of the victims coming to him with claims of the abuse. Wilson will be sentenced next month and is facing up to two years in prison.

As the Catholic Church continues to grapple with its tumultuous history of child sex abuse and historic lows in religious participation, Pope Francis appears to be leading the Vatican toward a religious community for a new generation – specifically, one that is more open and tolerant. If the Church is looking to revive membership in younger populations, these steps come as a major turning point.

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