An Act of Contrition: “You Don’t Play With Children’s Lives”

By Mark Esposito, Weekend Contributor


Well, will miracles never cease? In a church known for compelling confession from its followers, a remarkable one from its chief advocate came across the wires on Friday. That’s right, after decades of lying, obfuscating, blocking, destroying evidence and covering up in the most un-Christian way, Pope Francis has done what many Catholics hoped his predecessors would have done years ago — apologize AND beg forgiveness. Oh, lots of Popes apologize but it’s always with a condition … a term … a little euphemism about one bad apple not spoiling the great work of the barrel, or that the church’s pedophile problem isn’t really any worse than anybody else’s. (Really, every church has a decades old issue of unmarried priests molesting little boys and girls on an institutional level?) Or that it’s just American culture fueling the problem. (Damn justice seekers reading those beatitudes so literally!)

And in an even more remarkable statement from the most protective of secret societies, the new Pope owned it. He owned it in every sense from the philandering priests to their bishop protectors who covered for them and then unleashed the wolves on another unwitting flock. “I feel compelled to personally … ask for forgiveness for the damage they have done…. I feel called to take responsibility for all the evil some priests — large in number, but not in proportion to the total — have committed and to ask forgiveness for the damage they’ve done with the sexual abuse of children,” the Pontiff proclaimed loudly an in public. “We don’t want to take a step backward in dealing with this problem and with the sanctions that must be imposed,” the pope said. “On the contrary, I believe we must be very strong. You don’t play with children’s lives!”

To understand how remarkable this statement is you have to look back to the church’s position on the now world-wide scandal of priest pedophilia. The scandal blew up in 2002 when the Boston Globe published a series of articles exposing the problem and the church’s almost cavalier approach to dealing with pedophiles in its midst. The series created a stir in Europe too where the crimes were just coming to light. The public reaction from Rome was a curious and deafening silence. It was up to the bishops in the diocese to cleanup their own messes came the private word from Rome to the provinces. The US Conference of Bishops did what every bureaucracy does when accused of scandal — they studied it. And they issued a proclamation stating what we Catholics thought was policy all along, namely that the church owes its child members a”safe environment” in all church activities. Not exactly a mea culpa or even a “we’ve got a hell of problem here Brownie.” Just a statement of the obvious.  Old men talked, procedures were adopted, the laity listened and the cover up and abuse continued.

As more and more victims came forward, the church felt the need to react again. And when over 3000 cases were filed seeking billions in damages for victims, the action needed to be higher than at a diocesan or even national level. The reaction from the seat of power was now denial, diminish, and defend. A study was published claiming that only 4% of priests over a 50 year span were suspected of abuse. Then a pious statement in 2003 from then Pope John Paul II: ” there is no place in the priesthood and religious life for those who would harm the young”. But behind the scenes the Church had no intention of doing anything besides battening down the hatches. Cardinal George Pell described the mood in Rome:

…The attitude of some people at the Vatican was that if accusations were being made against priests, they were being made exclusively or at least predominantly by enemies of the church to make trouble and therefore they should be dealt with sceptically. I think there was more of an inclination to give the benefit of the doubt to the defendant rather than listen seriously to the complaints…

Publicly, the church was saying all the right things. Adopting procedures for kids to come forward, training laity and priests alike about what to look for when abuse was suspected, but in the litigation wars where the rubber met the road, the rule was scorched earth.  A 2014 United Nations report issued scathing criticism of the Vatican’s historical efforts to block investigators and coverup crimes during those times. At the hearing, Sara Oviedo, the chief UN investigator pressed the Vatican delegation on the frequent ways abusive priests were transferred rather than turned in to police. Given the church’s “zero tolerance” policy, she asked, why were there “efforts to cover up and obscure these types of cases?” The church demurred with Monsignor Charles Scicluna, the Vatican’s former sex crimes prosecutor,  politely telling the committee, “The Holy See gets it. Let’s not say too late or not. But there are certain things that need to be done differently.” Not all in scarlet vestments were so sanguine, however, with one Vatican emissary issuing this dodge: “Priests are not functionaries of the Vatican,” Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican’s U.N. ambassador in Geneva, told the committee. “Priests are citizens of their own states, and they fall under the jurisdiction of their own country.” 

And some in the Curia (the Vatican’s governing bureaucracy) said all this fuss about abusive priests was an American culture problem and its perceived anti-Catholic prejudice and even its ambulance chasing lawyers. A reporter from the National Catholic Reporter put it this way:

No one [in the Vatican] thinks the sexual abuse of kids is unique to the States, but they do think that the reporting on it is uniquely American, fueled by anti-Catholicism and shyster lawyers hustling to tap the deep pockets of the church. And that thinking is tied to the larger perception about American culture, which is that there is a hysteria when it comes to anything sexual, and an incomprehension of the Catholic Church. What that means is that Vatican officials are slower to make the kinds of public statements that most American Catholics want, and when they do make them they are tentative and halfhearted [sic]. It’s not that they don’t feel bad for the victims, but they think the clamor for them to apologize is fed by other factors that they don’t want to capitulate to.

Nasty ol’ Americans with all this sentiment for justice and protecting kids! Who the Hell are they … these sexual deviates?

In ten years following the Boston Globe reports more than $2 billion has been paid out to victims either by way of verdict or settlement; cases of coddled abusers have been reported in  Canada, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Belgium, France, Germany and Australia; and several catholic diocese have faced the prospect of bankruptcy to protect assets from attachment.  Justice seekers exact a high price it seems.

This is the second time Pope Francis has apologized, but the first time he’s condemned the church’s reaction to the scandal. He was not alone. In 2010, then Pope Benedict criticized the church for not being vigilant enough or quick enough in responding to the problem of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy. A representative of SNAP, a victim’s advocacy group,  responded that the criticism was “disingenuous” because, in her opinion, the Church had in fact been “prompt and vigilant” in concealing the scandal.

Still this Pope Francis seems to actually “get it” and as every Catholic learns about the sacrament of penance “there is no forgiveness without contrition, and no contrition without confession.”  Now, the church’s work of emotional and spiritual satisfaction to its victims can begin.

Sources: CNS; SNAP; Huffington Post

~Mark Esposito, Weekend Contributor

84 thoughts on “An Act of Contrition: “You Don’t Play With Children’s Lives””

  1. To Giovanna De La Paz

    When it happened, I personally think it was shock wave that ran through the church and the leaders didn’t know how to handle the problem. That’s why it seemed to the public to take so long for the church to face the problem, when in fact, the church leaders were drawn together to determine the problem and how to handle it. They didn’t handle it correctly at first, but over the last 12 years, they have getting to the crux of the problem and improving on handling this humiliating situation.

    Oh, really? They “didn’t know how to handle the problem” huh? As if commonsense didn’t exist until the year 2008.
    If you really are stupid enough to believe this line that the poor catholic church were just innocently moving pederasts from one parish to another, smearing complainants, and ostracizing anyone who spoke out about the problem, then
    I’ve got a business proposition for you that involves giving your bank account details so I can deposit a million dollars into your account from a relative in Nigeria.

    It has always been the churches belief that no matter how bad an action is, God is ready to be merciful and forgiving. Non-Catholics and faith haters used this as an opportunity to say that the church hid behind it’s “secret society.” Yes, in some cases it did, but the church was also taking time in analyzing, debating and searching for a way to rehabilitate these priests rather than condemn–unfortunately with little to no success.

    No. They were covering the problem up. Pure and simple. Unless of course you can explain to me how exactly pressuring victims to keep quiet, paying out hush money, and issuing denials, and basically flat out lying whenever the scandals surfaced played a role in “rehabilitation”.

    Although some priests have not been defrocked, most have had duties suspended, forced to resign and retire, and of course, several have been given considerable lengthy prison time–rightfully so. When we compare their prison time to the recent two American layman pedophile’s–one who got 1 year in jail and the other who got probation, the priests are serving their penance far more.

    “As for some Catholic Diocese’s filing bankruptcy cases, my answer to Justice Holmes is, wouldn’t you do the same to protect your assets?”

    Err….No, i wouldn’t. Not if people in my employ were comitting rape or sexual assualt. I would cough whatever compensation to the victims that the courts deem they should get.

    “Isn’t that what we pay you lawyers to do? Would you be willing to give up all your assets to pay contrition for your sins. I think not.”

    If I concealed those sorts of crimes in the first place, i would have sacrificed any moral claim to have any right at all to protect my assets. Justice would demand that if i had to bankrupt myself to make financial amends to do so under those circumstances, then that is what i would morally have to do. Whether or not i would be willing to do so is irrelevant.
    Funny how someone who brandishes religious faith seems unable to grasp this simple point about legal and moral justice.

    “However, it is those filled with hateful hearts who keep rehashing this sensitive situation in an effort to spew their vengeful words towards the church, which was founded by Jesus Christ. Yet, Jesus still loves you, even though you turn your backs on Him.
    It’s Easter week–what perfect time for the rancorous to keep pounding the nails deeper into His hands and feet. ”

    Oh, gee, you make me feel really guilty for not respecting an institution that shelters pederasts. But i guess that’s just my “hateful heart” talking You people play the part of victim so well don’t you? As for turning my back on Jesus…well that leaves me almost speechless.
    If Jesus were indeed real I don’t he would appreciate you using him as a human shield for an institution that sheltered rapists, and treated their victims like shit.

  2. Mespo, If folks were as forthright as you I would have much less of a problem w/ the second category folks. But, unfortunately you are a rarity..

  3. My understanding is that the confession must be accompanied by penance and contrition. While I am moved by the current Popes willingness to admit the obvious I believe there needs to be a demonstration of sincerity. I would suggest that the church order each of its bishops to immediately release any and all documentation regarding complaints, investigations and attempts to cover up the crimes of child abuse, sexual and otherwise.

    Here in Minnesota the local Diocese is in a protracted battle to hide documentation, using the courts to prevent a full and complete account of their crimes. Until the beautiful words are followed by meaningful actions they are just beautiful words.

  4. nick:

    “ustice, If you read all I have said on this an other posts I am EXTREMELY tough on the church. However, my motivation is caring about the victims[I worked civil cases involving priest abuse], and being disgusted about the hierarchies criminal coverup. The haters of which I speak care nothing about the victims.”


    I have no problem with your distinction between people righteously offended by the church’s conduct and those looking for any excuse to criticize. There is a sincerity gap there to be sure though both may make valid points. Motivation does matter in the credibility debate.

    Personally, I ‘m a critic of religion (which I find irrational and somewhat corrupt at all but the highest spiritual levels) and the church’s handling/covering up of these crimes. I guess that puts me in both camps, but I’ve tried to present only my criticism of the sexual abuse scandal in this piece and show some modest praise for the adults who really are trying to do something about it.

  5. justice, If you read all I have said on this an other posts I am EXTREMELY tough on the church. However, my motivation is caring about the victims[I worked civil cases involving priest abuse], and being disgusted about the hierarchies criminal coverup. The haters of which I speak care nothing about the victims. They merely see this as an opportunity to attack religion in general, or the Catholic Church specifically. If you read comments here and elsewhere, they’re easy to pick out. I do agree the church and its minions have tried to make people believe ALL those speaking out on this topic are haters. Those people claiming that go to Dante’s lowest level of hell.

  6. Elaine wrote: “Who is to choose which creation myth should be taught as science in public schools?”

    Well, we know you are not an astronomer. Who chooses the astronomy myths, falsified as science, that change more often than underwear?

    The origin of life has foundation on only DNA! That is scientific fact that is not disputable. What is disputable is whether you believe that a filing cabinet full of genetic code evolved on its own or was intelligently designed.

    Show us the data that you ostensibly used (and insist upon) before concluding that DNA evolved on its own!

  7. ho hum…

    Let us know when the Pope decides to release all of the evidence (all of it…) in the church’s possession including dates, places, individuals, number of occurrences etc directly to the proper local authorities so that prosecutions can begin.

    Until then, it’s just smoke.

    And still no mention of the Whore Court’s McCutcheon decision.

    This blog is becoming extremely trivial.

  8. david,

    I posted a criticism of the article. Your rereading of it hasn’t made your understanding of what it said any clearer.

    You keep telling us about empirical scientific data the proves “the creation” as you believe it happened. I haven’t seen any of that data to date.

    1. Elaine M wrote: “I posted a criticism of the article. Your rereading of it hasn’t made your understanding of what it said any clearer.”

      The problem is they use bogus numbers like 5% which you apparently want to gloss over and think you will correct the problem by repeating the error ad nauseum.

      Elaine M wrote: “You keep telling us about empirical scientific data the proves “the creation” as you believe it happened. I haven’t seen any of that data to date.”

      You are not listening very well. As a well trained scientist who has published in scientific journals, that sentence about “proving” a theory that I believe is not even in my vocabulary. I have never spoken of data that “proves the creation as I believe it happened.” I have spoken again and again that science in this area of theories operates with INDUCTIVE logic which cannot prove anything. We use the method of Strong Inference to DISPROVE hypotheses. Only DEDUCTIVE logic can lead to proof. Perhaps you should read Karl Popper’s, “The Logic of Scientific Discovery” and “Conjectures and Refutations.” Another good read is Thomas Kuhn’s “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.” I’ve also mentioned John Platt’s paper on “Strong Inference” in the past.

      What I have said is that some creationist models of origins fit the data better than the positivist evolutionary models. It is not about finding that magic bullet evidence, but about what model best fits all the empirical data. A scientist must be open to having his model falsified, and guys like Tyson are clearly not open to criticism or any attempt to falsify the model that he believes is the right one.

      Investigators attempt to construct a model of what happened using assumptions about the data. For example, the positivist scientists dismissive of creationist models ignore a lot of data. They ignore polonium halo research, or research into other explanations for the redshift, they ignore the fossil record for the most part, they ignore a plethora of biological difficulties to present their story, and ignore the issue of abiogenesis. They focus instead of confirmation bias and weaving a nice story that is superficially plausible but becomes increasingly problematic the more one investigates it seriously. Their only recourse is to censor critics, and they use the similarity between an Intelligent Design model and religious theology to argue for their right of censorship of competing viewpoints. For those who are only superficially familiar with the science of it, that seems to work. For the scientists who are more serious about establishing issues through empirical means, it does not work. I believe that time will show you are on the wrong side of this issue as newer generations become dissatisfied with the status quo and as more empirical research is accomplished.

  9. I would attempt a comment here, based partly on using paraphrases of the content of the most recent college textbook in my library regarding child abuse and neglect, to wit, Monica L. McCoy and Stefanie M. Keen, Child Abuse and Neglect: Second Edition, Psychology Press, Taylor and Francis Group, New York and London, 2014.

    I am not (yet?) making that attempt because I find my chances to be negligible for my successfully posting anything I can regard as scientifically accurate and honest enough to be ethical for a Wisconsin Professional Engineer to post, that will not be stopped dead in its tracks by WordPress.

  10. I would attempt to post what might perchance be a scientifically useful comment here, only anything and everything I can imagine writing and posting which I can regard as being in accord with the Code of Ethics of the National Society of Professional Engineers (of which I am a member) is, like what I attempted to post a very short while ago, apparently doomed, at least initially, to be Askimeted into the Internet Bit Bucket, or otherwise into practicable oblivion.

    In my view, the only way out of the enigmatic human predicament which I have a hunch underlies the existential foundation of the topic of this thread is rigorously honest dialogue, something human society in its present incarnation appears to absolutely prohibit.

    So, I am herewith attempting to post this comment…

  11. Nick, the scandal was started by the priests who abused the children and the bishops and cardinals who looked the other way or worse sent them to new parishes so that they could have a new crop of victims. As to the “hater” claims the Church is always blaming others when it should buckle down and clean its own house. In this context and many It has never been concerned about anything but protecting the Church or expanding its power. That is hardly what Christ would want it to do but then he didn’t wear special shoes or live in a palace either.

  12. cant help but laugh at the giovannas and stevehs of the world. one wants us to forget or accept the lies told by the catholic church and the other claims its all a internet rant… well i will take what they say into consideration just as soon as either one can explain to me. what Jesus who is supposedly jewish and the catholic church have in common and for those who dont understand what i mean/…….

    I’m trying to figure out how it is that Jesus who jewish and they are the chosen people. so we are told .. yet it is the catholic religion that is the most powerful religion in the world…. jewish people follow Judaism or most of them do.. that sure doesnt sound anything like catholic or christianity to me yet it is the catholic church who carries the most weight with the worse scandals while christians are the ones responsible for the worlds and histories most atrocious crimes re: slavery which was instituted by the pope ( bet none of you knew or will admit that) re: the spanish inquisitions. and 3 of the worlds worse wars wonder who knows which wars they were….the catholic church is responsible for the lies of history re: america was discovered by marco polo. lol to funny, re: hundreds of years of pedophilia and homosexuality along with triple digit numbers of children who are in the system. and definitely play a huge part of mental illness thanks to their pedophilia and homosexuality..

    yes yes i know i’ll probably be banned from the site but until and unless the people begin to truly learn the truth and understand it THEN THE DEVIL WINS and the devil would be those who run catholics and christianity along with all other so called religions that advocate hate, chaos, confusion and dissent

  13. Wait a minute! You mean to tell me there is still a Catholic church? You mean to tell me there are STILL people gullible enough to buy the “God” thing after HE let those kids be raped right inside the sanctuary? That dudn’t make any sense!

    I guess it’s true; the church was created by the congregation, not the clergy. Oh yeah, I forgot, religion is real – real in the political dimension. Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive. But it makes lots of money, right?

    Have you ever been to a convention of physicists? Ask them if God exists – take a poll. They’re fairly rational, intelligent people, wouldn’t ya say?

    Funny! Religious folks and communists (i.e. progressives, liberals, etc.) are a lot alike, aren’t they? They don’t believe in man. And they sure as hell don’t believe in FREE men.

  14. I find nicks statements hostile and I do believe he is stalking Elaine.

  15. Many different cultures have their own creation myths. Who is to choose which creation myth should be taught as science in public schools?

    1. Elaine wrote: “Who is to choose which creation myth should be taught as science in public schools?”

      Not all creation myths have a scientific basis. Only models of creation that look at empirical data and are falsifiable by empirical means should be taught in the science classroom. The other creation myths could be taught in anthropology, literature class, history class, or wherever it might be deemed appropriate. It should not be discriminated against because it might be classified as religious.

  16. Samantha, there is a distinction between science and creation stories. One belongs in a science class one belong in a comparative religion class. I don’t want my tax dollars being wasted on teaching my children that fairy tales are science.

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