The Francis Era
The Real Papal Story: Cleaning up the Hierarchy

Social media is starting to light up over a leaked Italian draft of Pope Francis’s much anticipated encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si (encyclicals are named after the first words that appear in the text; this translates to “praised be to you,” and comes from St. Francis’ Canticle of the Sun). According to the New York Times, the Vatican claims the draft is not final, and has said the text remains under embargo. Pundits, nevertheless, have already started to get their takes in, with many noting that the encyclical is unlikely to contain anything all that new, but rather to reiterate standard Catholic teaching on the environment that was also emphasized by Pope Emeritus Benedict XIV. That doesn’t mean the document won’t have important things to say, but they are unlikely to be as ‘revolutionary’ from the standpoint of Catholic history as some of the buzz seems to suggest.

In the meantime, something much bigger may be happening behind the baldacchino. When Francis was elected, many hoped his papacy would center on cleaning up the Vatican, including its finances, and finish the work started by Benedict on the lingering aspects on the sex abuse scandals. The first has been a key part of Francis’s papacy already, and we may now be seeing more public action on the second. The NYT reports that the Vatican has accepted the resignation of the archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis John C. Nienstedt as well as one of his key aides for his handling of clerical sexual abuse in his diocese:

The resignations come about 10 days after prosecutors in Minnesota filed criminal charges against the archdiocese for its mishandling of repeated complaints of sexual misconduct against a priest and a few days after the Vatican announced the formation of a tribunal to hear cases against bishops accused of neglecting or covering up abuse cases — an unprecedented mechanism but one whose details are yet unknown […]

They are hardly the first bishops to resign under scrutiny or accusations that they failed abuse victims. Since the papacy of John Paul II — now St. John Paul — 16 other bishops have resigned or been forced from office under a cloud of accusations that they mishandled abuse cases, according to research by BishopAccontability.org, an advocacy group based in Boston. Archbishop Nienstedt is the 17th, by that group’s count.

This week also sees the announcement that former Vatican ambassador to the Dominican Republic, Jozef Wesolowski, will stand trial next month on charges of paying to have sex with children and possessing child pornography. The Vatican’s (hopefully ongoing) efforts on these fronts is potentially more newsy than Francis’ encyclical is likely to be. Unfortunately, that’s not something the media is likely to understand.

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