Three priests and one layman are now under arrest in Granada, Spain for sexually abusing a former altar boy because Pope Francis helped the victim seek justice. According to America magazine, last August the 24-year-old Spaniard wrote to the Pope to tell Francis that three different priests had abused him over the course of a five year period. Then Francis got to work:
The young man was astounded, however, when the Pope called him on his cellular phone at 17.23 hours on August 10 and asked his pardon for “this very great sin, and this very great crime,” and promised to investigate and intervene. It’s understood that the Pope subsequently contacted the archbishop and instructed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to intervene. After speaking with the pope, the young man denounced the abuse to the archdiocesan authorities and the archbishop then carried out an investigation and suspended the three priests, but did little else.Last October, the Pope phoned the young man a second time the Spanish media said. But when he learned how little the archdiocesan authorities had done he was not pleased and, it seems – though there is confirmation from the Vatican – that he encouraged the young man to make a denunciation to the judicial authorities. Subsequently, the young man went to the public prosecutor of Andalucía and told the full story. This led to the investigation now under way and to today’s arrest of the three priests and a lay person.
Francis’ papacy seems to run on two tracks. The first is the well-worn “culture war” track in which “liberals” and “conservatives” both inside and outside the Church war over traditional flash-points like remarriage, cohabitation, homosexuality, and ordination norms. The narrative around the recent Synod on marriage and the family positioned Francis’ papacy as in some ways “about” those issues, even if there was wide disagreement over how to interpret his stance on them.The second track is a more hidden reform agenda that revolves around fixing the Vatican bank, cleaning up the curia, addressing sexual abuse, and continuing the work of his predecessor’s Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Saint John Paul II. Francis’ success on these areas has so far been mixed: he’s done very well with the bank and the Vatican’s finances, but not yet taken many steps towards addressing the lingering scandal surrounding the abuse crisis. If the America story is any indication, he may be preparing to make bigger strides on that latter reform goal. When it comes to the Curia, he has certainly shaken things up already—and it looks like he will be announcing even more personnel changes soon. But the full meaning of those changes is not yet clear.Under Francis, the Vatican has also recently relaxed the rules surrounding marriage for Eastern Catholic priests, clergy who are Catholic but follow the Eastern rite of the Mass not used in Roman Catholic parishes. Previously Eastern Catholic bishops were sometimes allowed to ordain married men to the priesthood in their home countries but not in “Western” countries like North America. Now they will be able to do so anywhere. This could be read as a “culture war” issue—married clergy are not quite as important to the NYT as gay marriage but they usually do feature in the litanies of complaints published by that paper. But it is probably better to see it as a continuation of Pope Saint John Paul II and Pope Benedict’s attempts to bring apostolic Christians into as much unity as possible by allowing different bodies the use of their traditions.That unity is for all three Popes an essential prerequisite to calling the West to the Church, a goal Pope Francis just spoke about in words that could have been spoken as easily by Pope Benedict. When it comes to Pope Francis’ reform agenda, his intentions may be far more nuanced, and far more in keeping with the work of his predecessors, than the media seems able to acknowledge.