ROME (AFP) — The Vatican Friday defended the Catholic Church’s action on pedophile priests, saying popes Francis and Benedict XVI had “courageously” tackled the issue but admitting there was still much to be done in many countries.
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said “sensationalism” surrounding the Oscar-winning film “Spotlight” and hearings into an alleged cover-up of abuse by Cardinal George Pell in Rome had given the public the wrong impression.
The media furor surrounding both events “meant that most people, particularly those less well informed or with a short memory, think the Church has done nothing or very little to answer to these horrible tragedies”.
“An objective consideration shows it is not true,” he said in a statement, listing steps taken by the Church to meet with victims, draw up guidelines for bishops and update canonical procedures and laws.
Both Francis and his predecessor Benedict have shown a “courageous commitment… to tackling the crisis in several countries, such as the United States, Ireland, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands,” he said in a statement.
But while “cases of abuse have become very rare” in those countries and mostly date to previous decades, “in other countries, usually because of cultural situations which are very different and characterized by silence, there is still much to do”.
“There is resistance and there are difficulties, but the path to follow has become clearer,” he said.
Some abuse victims insist the Vatican still has not gone far enough to protect children even in the West — where intense media coverage of pedophile priests has led to greater scrutiny of church practices.
‘Purifying the memory’
They also accuse it of ducking out of providing proper financial compensation in a bid to protect its assets. “Spotlight,” which chronicles The Boston Globe’s investigation into sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and institutional efforts to cover up the crimes, won the Oscar for best picture last month.
Much of what went on in Boston has been compared to abuse committed in the Australian town of Ballarat and the city of Melbourne in the 1970s and 1980s.
The Vatican defended Australian Pell, the pope’s powerful finance minister, despite accusations by victims of sex abuse that he protected pedophile priests in his hometown of Ballarat.
Pell admitted this week he “should have done more” to follow-up on claims that a priest was abusing boys, as he gave evidence via videolink to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Sydney.
The 74-year old gave “a dignified and coherent personal testimony”, Lombardi said, though abuse survivors have questioned the credibility of the cardinal’s claims that he had not been aware of widespread paedophilia among priests.
The result was “an objective and lucid picture of the errors committed in many church environments in the previous decades,” Lombardi said, after four days of hearings into abuse in Australia in the 1970s and 1980s.
Despite Pell’s widely-reported gaffe, in which he told the commission the abuse “wasn’t of much interest to me” at the time, Lombardi said on the whole the testimony had helped towards “purifying the memory” of the Church.
While a letter written by the survivors asking to meet Pope Francis had been photographed and circulated by Italian media, the spokesman said “no explicit request” had been sent to the secretary of state or the pope’s secretary.