As pope calls for accountability in clergy sex abuse, Chaput says Philly church doing its best

 Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput reacts to questions about those sexually abused by clergy over the years during a press conference intended to celebrate the success of the papal visit. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput reacts to questions about those sexually abused by clergy over the years during a press conference intended to celebrate the success of the papal visit. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

At at post-papal visit news conference Monday, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput reiterated his belief that the archdiocese has adequately responded to the church clergy sexual abuse scandal.


“We deeply regret the past. We commit ourselves to a better future. People are angry. They want to say we’re not doing anything but symbolic things,” said Chaput, speaking to reporters at the World Meeting of Families media center. “I understand their anger. I don’t know how to get through that, except that we keep trying.”

During Pope Francis’ whirlwind trip through the United States, the pontiff twice spoke to bishops about the Catholic Church’s clergy sexual abuse scandal.

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Sunday morning in Philadelphia, speaking to church leaders in the St. Charles Borromeo Seminary chapel, Francis went off script to discuss the matter – describing abuse survivors as “true heralds of mercy.”

“God weeps for the sexual abuse of children. These cannot be maintained in secret, and I commit to a careful oversight to ensure that youth are protected and that all responsible will be held accountable,” said Francis.

On Monday, Chaput said Francis’ speech will reinforce the views he’s maintained.

“The pope trusts his bishops to make good decisions. He’s given us very clear directives to respond as best we can thoroughly and honestly,” said Chaput. “We’re trying to do that the best we can. We’ll always be criticized because people want it their way.”

Victims and advocates say Chaput could be doing much more to ensure justice is served.

A few gathered Monday afternoon outside of archdiocesan headquarters at 17th and Race to call for greater accountability for past crimes.

“It was wonderful news to hear that the pope’s primary goal is to end secrecy and to end child sex abuse, but here in Philadelphia, the hardball tactics in court go on,” said Marci Hamilton, a senior law fellow at the University of Pennsylvania who advocates for child sex abuse victims.

Hamilton urged Chaput to stop petitioning for confidentiality in ongoing court cases. She also criticized the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, which Chaput leads, for its efforts to block legislation that would give victims, past and present, more time to file civil and criminal cases against abusers.

The Catholic Church has opposed reforms to statute of limitation provisions nationwide. Chaput argues that the current system is fair, and that loosening the statutes could financially cripple the archdiocese.

“It’s time for them not only to stop opposing these reforms; it’s time for them to get behind these reforms,” said Barbara Dorris, a sex abuse victim who now coordinates outreach for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

Earlier this month, a group of active Catholics critical of church hierarchy called for Pope Francis’ newly created Vatican tribunal to investigate former Philadelphia Archbishop Cardinal Rigali, who led Philadelphia Catholics from 2003-2011.

Following a scathing 2005 Philadelphia grand Jury report that documented decades of abuse under Archbishops Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua and Cardinal John Krol, the grand jury returned with a 2011 report that found that “much has not changed.”

The report chided Rigali specifically for keeping about three dozen suspected abusers in ministry.

“We understand that accusations are not proof; but we just cannot understand the archdiocese’s apparent absence of any sense of urgency,” said the 2011 report.

Chaput bristled when asked at Monday’s press conference if it was appropriate for Rigali to join Pope Francis’ cavalcade.

“Why wouldn’t he have been there? Cardinal Rigali didn’t do anything to cause sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia,” said Chaput. “The grand jury reports came out in his time, but he wasn’t accused of doing anything inappropriate, or not handling it appropriately.

“In some ways, we should get over this wanting to go back and blame, blame, blame. The church is happy to assume its responsibility, but I’m really quite tired of people making unjust accusations against people who are not to be blamed,” said Chaput.

Since 2006, the Archdiocese has provided more than $1.6 million in resources for counseling, medication, travel and child care assistance, and other forms of support for survivors and their families. It has also invested more than $2.4 million in education and training for adults and children to recognize and report abuse.

Advocates say these reparations do not go far enough, and that victims deserve the chance to face their abusers in court.

“What these lawsuits are about in the civil courts is shifting the cost of the abuse from the victim to the people who made it happen,” said Hamilton. “That’s just fundamental fairness.”

Pope Francis’ first reference to the scandal on his American tour was an oblique one for which he faced stark criticism.

At a Mass in Washington, D.C., Wednesday before nearly all American bishops, Francis emphasized the tribulations that church leaders have endured through the scandal.

“I am also conscious of the courage with which you have faced difficult moments in the recent history of the church in this country without fear of self-criticism and at the cost of mortification and great sacrifice,” said Francis on Wednesday.

On Sunday, before another address to bishops, Francis met privately with victims of clergy abuse, saying he was “deeply sorry” when victims’ stories were doubted.

“Please know that the Holy Father hears you and believes you … I pledge to you that we will follow the path of truth wherever it may lead,” he said. “Clergy and bishops will be held accountable when they abuse or fail to protect children.”

On his flight back to Rome Sunday night, facing questions from reporters, Francis made even bolder statements on the matter.

He called abusers to seek forgiveness from their victims. And he posited that God would allow into heaven those who have lost their faith because they or a family member fell victim to abuse.

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