Pope Francis Is Planning a Meeting with Abuse Victims

Cardinal O'Malley will help organize a set-up for Francis on an issue where the new pope hasn't made as much progress.

Pope Francis announced this weekend that, with the help of Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley, he plans to hold a meeting with victims of sexual abuse in the next few months. And though he offered a strong condemnation of abuse in his press conference, the gesture again reveals the clergy abuse scandal as one area where Francis hasn’t yet forged a reputation as a transformational leader.

On other issues, the Pope has bred his reputation not so much by announcing radical changes to church doctrine as by speaking in a humble, plainspoken tone. “Who am I to judge?” he asked of gay priests without actually changing the church’s policy toward them. This weekend, he brought the same bluntness to his remarks on the abuse scandal.

“Sexual abuse is such an ugly crime … because a priest who does this betrays the body of the Lord. It is like a satanic Mass,” he said.

And yet, he hasn’t pleased everyone. He spoke days after a United Nations report criticized the Vatican’s response to the abuse scandals, accusing the church of failing to require that charges be reported to police, allowing the moving of clergy to evade discipline, and failing to help victims obtain compensation.

David Clohessy, executive director of the U.S. victims’ group, Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, told the Associated Press that Francis hasn’t made real changes in the area of clergy abuse.

“The simple truth is this is another gesture, another public relations coup, another nice bit of symbolism that will leave no child better off and bring no real reform to a continuing, scandal-ridden church hierarchy,” he said.

Pope Francis certainly won’t be the first to sit down with victims. Pope Benedict XVI met with abuse victims several times during his own papacy. O’Malley helped organize those meetings, too.

But Francis has shown capacity to create goodwill on other issues where the church hasn’t had as much of it lately. Mitchell Garabedian, a U.S. attorney who represents clergy abuse victims, told the AP that “meeting directly with victims is the most powerful tool that the pope can use in understanding the ugliness and horror of clergy sexual abuse and why it must be stopped or prevented.”

So though the announcement reveals that Pope Francis has not made the same public relations progress on the abuse scandal as he has elsewhere, it also suggests he could at least continue to move the church in the right directions.