VATICAN CITY (RNS) Pope Francis has warned he has “zero tolerance” for child sex abuse in the Catholic Church and revealed that three bishops are currently being investigated by the Vatican.

But the pope did not name names, and Vatican officials on Tuesday (May 27) declined to comment.

So who are the three bishops under Vatican investigation? The speculation is that the pope likely was referring to three clerics, including:

  • Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien, who resigned in February 2013 on the eve of the conclave that elected Francis. O’Brien later admitted that “there have been times that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal.”Cardinal Keith O'Brien
  • Polish Archbishop Josef Wesolowski, who was accused of child abuse in Poland and during his period as papal nuncio in the Dominican Republic until his dismissal last August;
  • Chilean Bishop Cristian Contreras, who has been accused of abuse by other priests in his diocese.

Francis made his comments to journalists aboard his return flight to Rome on Monday as he wrapped up his first visit to the Middle East.

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

When the pope said one of the three bishops had been found guilty, that led to immediate speculation he was referring to Bishop Robert Finn from Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., who was convicted in 2012 for failing to report a priest for child pornography. But so far there is little indication Finn — who remains in office — is facing Vatican review.

“Finn deserves to be fired or at least demoted because of his deceit, recklessness, callousness and selfishness in pedophile priest cases,” said the Chicago-based  Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), which represents around 18,000 victims worldwide, saying SNAP isn’t aware “of another bishop who has been convicted of endangering kids who is still on the job.”

But Francis did not single out Finn — or any other bishop — by name.

“At the moment, there are three bishops under investigation: One has already been found guilty and we are now considering the penalty to be imposed, ” the pope said during the nearly hourlong media conference. “There are no privileges. We must go forward with zero tolerance.”

The 77-year-old pontiff also announced he would meet with a group of sex abuse victims for the first time at the Vatican early next month.

Francis said he would meet with eight victims from Germany, England and Ireland. Boston Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley, who heads a commission looking at new ways of dealing with the crisis, will be there. The timing and details of the meeting are still being worked out.

SNAP said the pope’s comments changed nothing, noting that Francis will be the third pope to meet abuse victims.

“No child rape will be prevented, no abuse cover-up will be prevented and no predator priest will be exposed by anything the pope said today or will do next month,” Joelle Casteix, western regional director of SNAP, said in a statement. “His upcoming and self-serving meeting with victims is more of what we’ve seen for decades — more gestures, promises, symbolism and public relations.”

KRE/MG END McKENNA

 

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Josephine McKenna

Josephine McKenna

Josephine McKenna has more than 30 years' experience in print, broadcast and interactive media. Based in Rome since 2007, she covered the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and election of Pope Francis and canonizations of their predecessors. Now she covers all things Vatican for RNS.

19 Comments

  1. Quoted by pope: ” We must go ahead with zero tolerance” —

    But what is Pope Francis going to do about the bishops and cardinals who do not follow the “zero tolerance” policy.? And yes, KC Bishop Finn would most certainly be the first to go, but we will only believe it when we see it. The pope’s grandiose promises and words do not protect kids.
    Tragically the sex abuse and cover up within the church hierarchy throughout the world is still going on to this day. Cardinals and bishops are still not removing accused predator clergy, and they are still not reporting to law enforcement. Their so called “zero tolerance” policy is not being followed by the bishops who created it. They don’t have to, because there is no punishment to force the bishops to change their ways of protecting their power and the institution rather than protecting innocent children.

    Everyday the pope delays in taking significant actions to demote, fire and discipline the high ranking church officials who continue to protect the child predators, another child is being sexually abused within the archaic system. Pope Francis needs to immediately disclose the names and the reasons that 3 bishops are being investigated.

    Delays and silence are not an option anymore. It only hurts, and by speaking up there is a chance for healing, exposing the truth, and therefore protecting others.
    Judy Jones, SNAP Midwest Associate Director, USA, 636-433-2511, SNAPJudy@gmail.com
    SNAP, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests

    • To Judy Jones,

      Very well said. If only Pope Francis could read your post….
      Also, in addition to the many innocent children who are victims of sexual abuse by priests, there are other innocent victims. Nuns are also being sexually abused by the priests, especially by those priests who receive prayers and support from those same nuns within the same parish. The nuns usally remain quiet, as they are taught to remain obedient to priests, no matter how badly the priest behaves. That is another subject…

      Thank you for your great work in protecting survivors of those abused by priests.

  2. The Great God Pan

    Looks like the Catholic Church STILL doesn’t get it, but at this point that comes as no surprise. The Pope quite absurdly views sexual abuse by priests as an attack on the Church, instead of an attack on the victims. He simply does not understand the issue and is, in fact, probably incapable of understanding it.

    Let’s examine the evidence of his incomprehension:

    “[The sexual abuse of children by my employees] is very serious. It is like a satanic Mass.”

    Yes, it is very serious. No, it is not like a Satanic Mass. It is actually quite a lot worse than some people parodying a religious ritual. They’re not even in the same category of behavior. They have nothing in common. An attack on the presumed sanctity of the Catholic Church is not remotely like an attack on someone’s body and emotional well-being. This is a man who cannot tell the moral difference between a child being molested and someone putting on a black robe and reciting the Lord’s Prayer backwards.

    “Sexual abuse is such an ugly crime … because a priest who does this betrays the body of the Lord,”

    That is definitely NOT why it is an ugly crime. On the list of reasons why sexual abuse is such an ugly crime, that would have to rank somewhere near the bottom. It is no longer amazing that a Pope would think sexual abuse is an attack against Jesus rather than against a kid, but it IS now officially amazing that both the allegedly “godless” mass media and a great deal of the self-described “social justice” crowd continue to portray this man as a progressive hero who has come to deliver the world from evil. With this latest statement, there can no longer be any excuse for mistaking the true nature of his character. From this point onward, admirers of Pope Francis have a lot to answer for and should be held accountable every time they express admiration for him.

    • “The Great God Pan”. Your response just shows pure ignorance.

      First and foremost, every child is made in the image and likeness of God. An attack on a child is an attack on God! Plain and simple!

      And shame on your ugliness for attacking the comprehension and character of our Pope.

      • @Mary O,

        What are you defending? Cardinal Bernie Law, the godfather of the Boston Pedophile Ring which victimized thousands of little boys and some girls – never received justice!

        All of the shame goes on those who defend the Popes who have protected this criminal willfully hiding him from the courts for 20 years!

        Our “POPE” should give up the Bernie LAW IMMEDIATELY or be held by an international tribunal for aiding and abetting a known criminal!

        Shame on you for not protecting children by apologizing for these disgraced clerics. Pope Francis should go to jail for withholding evidence and for coddling child rapists.

        The Vatican should be closed and made into a museum – like the Acropolis.

        • “An international tribunal”? Wow, that’s heavy Max. I’d ask exactly what names you’d pick to be on that big international tribunal, but I’m already suffering from stomach troubles, so I probably better not ask.

          Meanwhile, I agree with Judy, but there’s still the 800 pound gorilla in the sanctuary. If Pope Francis seriously punishes more than two or three guys and doesn’t stop, he’s going to totally ignite the issue of all those GAY priests behind all those same-sex abuses, and THEN all hell will break loose.

          Francis won lots of applause and popularity with his “Who am I to judge” one-liner, but if it even LOOKS like he will be attempting a major investigation of same-sex abuses by priests (and the subsequent coverups by supervisors), all that applause will turn to hatred.

          This is why Francis has already punished a Bishop for having too much “Bling”, but has done totally NOTHING against the proven abuse-coverup Bishop Finn. He knows there’s a powderkeg waiting to explode.

          So there you go. “Moving forward”, Francis says, it’ll be “Zero Tolerance.” But what about all those same-sex abuse victims ALREADY? Where is their justice? Forget it, Francis says. He’ll just meet with some of them, listen to their stories and pray a blessing, and then the meeting’s over and the abuse survivors are back on their own.

          Because if Francis does ANYTHING more substantial than that, he’ll have to address that 800-pound “GAY” issue head on. And then the powderkeg would explode…and that would likely include the “gay mafia” that, like it or not, probably DOES exist and at least played an unspecified role in Pope Benedict’s resignation.

          • @Doc,

            Is there a rapist hiding out in your house? Did you knowingly accept into your home a rapist and did you hide the rapist on the 3rd floor of your house so the police won’t find him?

            That is what the Vatican is doing. Now!
            Yes this makes the Vatican and its Pope
            ACCESSORIES TO CHILD RAPE and an OBSTRUCTION to JUSTICE.

            This should be considered an international criminal matter.

      • By the way, Bernie Law is in a big fancy cushy room with servants at the Vatican.

        You are defending the most criminal abetters of crime the world has seen since Al Capone!

        • The most criminal abetters of crime the world has ever seen are all sitting in the White House. Killing babies (the vilest child abuse, destroying marriage, droning people etc).

          BTW, there are no criminal charges against Cardinal Law.

          • The Godfather of the Boston Priest Pedophile Ring is
            Bernie Law.

            ALL OF THIS IS KNOWN through the Boston Globe:

            He moved priests around from parish to parish knowing what they were doing to children. (He ‘blessed them’ and forgave them.)

            He stonewalled the parents – (who he also ‘blessed’ for their torment.)

            He stonewalled the state when it called on him to cough up relevant records to prosecute the priests.

            And before charges could brought the Vatican scooped him up and hid him in a cave where is remains to this day.
            THE VATICAN IS COUNTRY UNTO ITSELF WITH ITS OWN LAWS.

            American politicians don’t have the guts to go after this guy and extradite him – especially in Massachusetts where the Catholic vote is strong.

            I will never be told that I cannot be moral without Jesus! What a load.

          • I would like to add that media articles are not necessarily facts. No law agency in the USA has charges against Cardinal Law. If there was, the Vatican would have sent him back to face the charges.
            He is in the Vatican in a unit and he does useful work.

          • @Mal,

            NO PRIEST has ever been handed over by the Vatican – even the killer Priests of Rwanda like Father Serromba who murdered thousands of Tutsis for Jesus.

            The Vatican always evades justice – it is a criminal gang.

  3. 15 “Be on the watch for the false prophets who come to you in sheep’s covering, but inside they are ravenous wolves. 16 By their fruits you will recognize them. Never do people gather grapes from thorns or figs from thistles, do they? 17 Likewise, every good tree produces fine fruit, but every rotten tree produces worthless fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear worthless fruit, nor can a rotten tree produce fine fruit. 19 Every tree not producing fine fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Really, then, by their fruits you will recognize THOSE MEN.
    21 “Not everyone saying to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the Kingdom of the heavens, but only the one doing the will of my Father who is in the heavens will. 22 Many will say to me in that day: ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and expel demons in your name, and perform many powerful works in your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them: ‘I never knew you! Get away from me, you workers of lawlessness!’ –Jesus Christ
    (Matthew 7:15-23)

    • @Fmr Cath,

      False Prophets? Who is to say where the true prophets are and HOW WOULD ANYONE KNOW?

      What is this nonsense? What am I to do with these quotes?

      Gosh! you Quote Blasters have no problem spraying bible quotes randomly.

      But if an Atheist should dare to reference a salient excerpt religious people
      shriek — “OUT OF CONTEXT”

      Just goes to show that context really isn’t an objection at all!

  4. did you people read the same article I just did?here you have a man, Pope Francis,who really wants to do something about this crisis. statements are being made by people making comments that they have no backing for.yes it was abuse! Yes the church handled the situation in a way which psychological professionals told them to do it.they relied on the wrong people for help. Look at the John Jay investigation. It doesn’t help any ones cause when SNAP offers the wrong statistical information.SNAP will never be happy, ever! That helps no one, especially victims!

  5. Re: “‘[Sexual abuse] is very serious. It is like a satanic Mass.'”

    … except a lot of Catholics would much rather be sanctimoniously enraged over a Black Mass being said at Harvard, than to have to admit some of their own clergy abused children and that the hierarchs who managed them protected and even enabled the abuse.

    Catholics ought to open their ears and listen to their Pope on this, instead of getting their knickers in knots every time yet there’s yet another revelation of their Church’s personnel abusing kids and covering it up.

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