There should be no opportunity for appealing canonical cases of sexual abuse against minors when allegations have been proven by evidence, Pope Francis said in spontaneous comments Thursday.
In off-the-cuff remarks to the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors (PCPM) Sept. 21, the Pope said that “if pedophilia, an abuse of minors, is proven it is enough to not receive appeals.” “If there is the evidence, period: it is definitive.” Pope Francis also explained that he would not consider direct appeals for clemency or reconsideration from priests who have been found guilty of allegations of sexual misconduct. “I have never signed one of these,” he said, “and I will never sign it.”
The Pope elaborated, saying that the Church must consider that a person that commits abuse “is sick, that they suffer from a disease.” He explained “today he is sorry, we forgive him, and then after two years he falls again.” He also expressed regret for a case in which he chose to impose lenient sanctions against an Italian priest abuser, saying, “I learned in this.”
Speaking at the opening of the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, Francis set aside his prepared remarks, handing them out to be read, explaining that he preferred to talk in a more informal manner. “I know it was not easy to begin this work,” he told commission members. “It was necessary to go against the current, because it is a reality, the conscience of the Church...came a bit late.”
Because awareness of the problem came late, “the means to solve the problem have come late,” he continued. “I am aware of this difficulty. But it is the reality, I tell you so: we arrived late.” The practice of moving clergy who were suspected or accused of abuse to a different diocese may have contributed to a slowing of our consciences, he reflected.
He said that the Lord has raised “prophetic” men in the Church who have worked to bring this issue to the surface. One such person the Pope pointed to is Cardinal Sean O'Malley, the president of the PCPM, who frequently raised the issue of the problem of abuse to Pope Francis. The Pope said that Cardinal O’Malley spoke to him about the ministry of Jesus to children.
“Now what I think is that it should be the way to continue with our work,” Francis said. “I say 'ours' because it is not (only) a commission, because it is a commission within the Holy See with the Pope too.”
Speaking about the process for how the Holy See handles abuse cases, Pope Francis said that he believes “for the moment” the responsibility for the resolution of abuse cases should continue to reside with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as it has since 2001.
Some had speculated that the Pope was considering suggestions that the laicization of priests found to have committed abuse be reassigned to the Roman Rota and other tribunals of the Vatican. “But in this moment the problem is real... it is grave that some have not taken notice of the problem,” he said, and for this reason the competency must remain with the CDF until the whole Church becomes aware.
There are many cases, at the moment, that do not move forward quickly, the Pope noted, but the newly-appointed secretary and prefect of the CDF, Bishop-designate Giacomo Morandi and Archbishop Luis Ladaria Ferrer, are working to add more people to work on the process of abuse cases, he said.
The Pope concluded by thanking the commission for their work, saying without them it would not have been possible to carry out the work already done, nor would it be possible to continue their future work within the Curia. “That's what I wanted to tell you spontaneously,” he said, “then you have the most formal, educated speech there, but I think that this you have the right to know.”