Pope's reported comments on clergy abuse stir controversy

Los Angeles TimesJuly 13, 2014 

An interview that credits Pope Francis as saying about 2 percent of Roman Catholic clerics are pedophiles stirred controversy Sunday, as the Vatican sought to raise questions about the article's accuracy and others called on the pope to take more action on the issue.

The remarks, reported in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, came a week after the pope asked for forgiveness in his first meeting with victims of clerical sexual abuse.

The interview by Eugenio Scalfari, published Sunday, quotes the pope as calling the rash of sex abuse scandals "a leprosy in our home" and saying the pedophiles include "priests and even bishops and cardinals," according to a CBS News translation. "And others, even more numerous, know about it but keep quiet, they punish without saying the reason why. I find this state of things untenable and it is my intention to confront it with the severity it requires."

The Vatican has pushed back on some points. According to Vatican officials, Scalfari does not record his conversations with the pope nor transcribe them word for word. News.va, an official Vatican news source, cited Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi as saying Scalfari quotes Francis from memory alone, and that the pope does not review the results before publication.

Lombardi did not rebut any assertions Francis was said to have made, but raised questions about the lack of a closing quotation mark at the end of the paragraph that included the 2 percent figure.

"A lapse of memory or an explicit acknowledgment the naif reader is being manipulated?" he asked.

Meanwhile, the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, said the "real percentage of predator priests" is much higher than 2 percent and called on the pope to defrock clerics who participate in cover-ups.

"I'm convinced that no threat of penalty will deter a child molester," David Clohessy, executive director of SNAP, told the Los Angeles Times. However, he said, "defrocking a bishop or cardinal who hides abuse would have an enormous deterrent effect."

"I would challenge fans of this pope to name a single step he's taken that has had a practical impact on the crisis," Clohessy said. "He's made significant, dramatic, quick effective steps to transform church governance and finances. He obviously has both massive power and the willingness to use it, but not on this crisis."

At a United Nations hearing this year, the Vatican said it had defrocked 848 priests over the last decade and ordered 2,572 to "live a life of prayer and penance" because of abuse allegations. There are about 414,000 Roman Catholic priests worldwide, according to the BBC; if 2 percent are pedophiles, that would be more than 8,000.

In his meeting last week with victims of clerical sexual abuse, Francis pledged that bishops who covered up such abuse of minors would be held accountable.

In late June, the Vatican defrocked its former ambassador to the Dominican Republic, who was accused of having sexually abused boys in Santo Domingo.

In May, members of a U.N. committee on torture questioned Vatican officials for two hours about the church's handling of sexual abuse cases, and this year, the pope assembled a panel of advisers to create protocols to protect children from such abuse.

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