VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis has endorsed an
approach of "zero tolerance" toward all members of the church guilty
of sexually abusing minors or vulnerable adults.
Having listened to abuse survivors and having made what he described as
a mistake in approving a more lenient set of sanctions against an
Italian priest abuser, the pope said he has decided whoever has been proven guilty of abuse has no
right to an appeal, and he will never grant a papal pardon.
"Why? Simply because the person who does this (sexually
abuses minors) is sick. It is a sickness," he told his advisory commission
on child protection during an audience at the Vatican Sept. 21. Members of the
Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, including its president --
Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley of Boston -- were meeting in Rome Sept. 21-23 for their plenary
Setting aside his prepared text, the pope said he wanted
to speak more informally to
the members, who include lay and religious experts in the fields of
psychology, sociology, theology and law in relation to abuse and protection.
The Catholic Church has been "late" in facing
and, therefore, properly addressing the sin of sexual abuse by its members, the
pope said, and the commission, which he established in 2014, has had to "swim against the
tide" because of a lack of awareness or understanding of the seriousness
of the problem.
"When consciousness comes late, the means for resolving the problem comes late,"
he said. "I am aware of this difficulty. But it is the reality: We have
"Perhaps," he said, "the old practice of
moving people" from one place to another and not fully facing the problem "lulled consciences to
But, he said, "prophets in the church,"
including Cardinal O'Malley, have, with the help of God, come forward to shine
light on the problem of
abuse and to urge the church to face it.
Typically when the church has had to deal with new or
newly emerging problems, it has turned to the Congregation for the Doctrine of
the Faith to address the issue, he said. And then, only when the problem has
been dealt with adequately does the process for dealing with future cases get
handed over to another dicastery, he added.
Because the problem of cases and allegations of abuse are
"grave" -- and because
it also is grave that some have not adequately taken
stock of the problem --
it is important the doctrinal congregation continue to handle the cases, rather
than turning them over directly to Vatican tribunals, as some have
However, he said, the doctrinal congregation will need
more personnel to work on cases of abuse in order to expedite the "many
cases that do not proceed" with the backlog.
Pope Francis told commission members he wants to better balance
the membership of the doctrinal team dealing with appeals filed by clergy
accused of abuse. He said the majority of members are canon lawyers, and he
would like to balance out their more legalistic approach with more
members who are diocesan bishops and have had to deal with abuse in their
He also said proof that an ordained minister has abused a
minor "is sufficient (reason) to receive no recourse" for an appeal.
"If there is proof. End of story," the pope said; the sentence
And, he added, he has never and would never grant a papal
pardon to a proven perpetrator.
The reasoning has nothing to do with being mean-spirited,
but because an abuser is sick and is suffering from "a
The pope told the commission he has been learning "on the job" better
ways to handle priests found guilty of abuse, and he recounted a decision he
has now come to regret: that of agreeing to a more lenient sanction against an
Italian priest, rather than laicizing him as the doctrinal team recommended.
Two years later, the priest abused again, and Pope Francis
said he has since learned "it's a terrible sickness" that requires a