Recent remarks by Pope Francis are a throwback to conservative Pope Benedict XVI
Is Pope Francis the face of a new Catholic Church? Or is he just public relations window dressing on the same old medieval institution?
A new poll by Angus Reid Public Opinion suggests the pontiff’s everyman style, focus on poverty, and more modern comments on subjects like homosexuality and the afterlife have earned him a great deal of good will around the world.
According to Angus Reid, half of respondents to the survey of Canadians, Americans and Britons (Catholic and non-Catholic) view Pope Francis in a positive light, while 44 per cent have a neutral view. The rest (7%) view the Pontiff negatively.
And 58 per cent see the new Pope as having “an elevating effect on the Church.” The polling company’s release says that 36 per cent of respondents consider the strong public profile of Pope Francis as a good thing and 36 per cent say it makes the Church more interesting and relevant. Most chalk it up to his personal style (51%).
Not surprisingly, sexual abuse by Catholic clergy remains an area where respondents want to see Pope Francis take more action. Only a quarter of respondents say he’s done enough, though practicing Catholics are much more positive on this issue. Canada was the least forgiving country, America the most.
And it is the sex abuse issue that continues to bedevil the Pope Francis and the Church, as it should.
Pope Francis recently defended the Church, saying “”No-one else has done more. Yet the Church is the only one to have been attacked.”
This is patent nonsense. The ongoing investigation – and unhappy revelations that have followed – into Canadian residential schools for aboriginal children is but one example of investigations into sex abuse by non-Catholic religions and organizations.
Pope Francis also tried to deflect the focus from the Church, saying “The statistics on the phenomenon of violence against children are shocking, but they also clearly show that the great majority of abuses are carried out in family or neighbourhood environments.”
The “we’re not nearly as bad as the other guys” defence is indefensible and shame on Pope Francis for using it. Contrition would be a more Christian attitude, one more compatible with the new man-of-the-people image Pope Franky is working so hard at.
The United Nations issued a report in March blasting the Church for its refusal to cooperate with local and national authorities on sex abuse investigations. The UN called on the Vatican to remove priests who were known or suspected child abusers, and open its files to authorities so abusers can be prosecuted.
The UN also accused the Church of favouring “preservation of the reputation of the Church and the alleged offender over the protection of child victims,” which the Vatican vigorously denies but is supported by child abuse advocacy groups.
“The cases of child abuse by priests continue to happen, all around Italy, and of the cases that we’ve denounced we have seen no results,” Francesco Zanardi of Rete L’Abuso, told the BBC.
“It is astonishing, at this late date, that Pope Francis would recycle such tired and defensive rhetoric,” said Terence McKiernan, founder of the US-based website, BishopAccountability.org.
McKiernan adds that Pope Francis failed to apologize to children abused by clergy and has not even expressed sorrow.
Yes, it’s wonderful that Pope Francis washes the feet of the indigent and feeds the poor. And I suppose he’s more a man of the people than his imperial predecessors.
But the benchmark by which he should be measured – by which the Church itself should be measured – is the child abuse scandal.
Judging by his recent remarks, Pope Francis isn’t such a radical departure from those who came before him.
Which can only invite skepticism about his more public good works. Skepticism that appears to be entirely appropriate.
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