US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Sexual abuse well south of the border: Will Latin America be a test for Francis?

By Bryan Cones | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

We in the United States have become accustomed to news of clerical sexual abuse--weary even. The past decade has been a time of serious self-examination, and though the issue is hardly resolved, U.S. dioceses have taken major steps toward making the church safer for children, though much remains to be done.

This isn't as true in the rest of the Catholic world--a recent NBC News report covered some troubling stories out of Latin America, most notably the papal nuncio to the Dominican Republic, who is alleged to have paid underage boys for sex. He was "withdrawn" some weeks ago, but other cases in Latin America are beginning to gain attention, with some local bishops making the same mistakes their counterparts in the U.S. have made over the years. Some have wondered if Pope Francis is serious about reform on this issue.

I think he is, but I also think the media is too quick to believe that the pope actually can control how any local church or diocese handles claims of sexual abuse. Bishops have a lot of freedom in interacting with the civil law in their own countries. That said, Pope Benedict acted quickly to remove bishops who transgressed doctrinal boundaries drawn by the Vatican, as in the case of an Australian bishop who was removed for sounding too open to the ordination of women. One might hope for equally swift action in the cases of bishops who have knowingly tranferred abusers--but we are still waiting.