Pope Francis to Bishops: Don’t Protect Abusers


February 5, 2015

Pope Francis sent bishops and other Catholic Church officials a letter this week, telling them that they should prioritize the protection of children above concerns “such as the desire to avoid scandal.”

The pope, who has previously said sexual abuse by priests is as evil as performing a “satanic mass,” delivered his message as the church attempts to improve its reputation and protection of children after years of sexual molestation cover-ups.

From 2011 to ’12, the Vatican defrocked nearly 400 priests who abused children, according to numbers compiled by The Associated Press. While several bishops resigned in connection with sex abuse cases, few have been disciplined for ignoring offenders’ behavior or even intervening to protect them.

In March, Francis established a commission to protect children from abuse in the church. In his letter, he stressed that bishops and others should follow church instructions to cooperate with civil authorities, ensure prospective priests are committed to chastity and celibacy, and listen to victims and their families.

“Families need to know that the Church is making every effort to protect their children. They should also know that they have every right to turn to the Church with full confidence, for it is a safe and secure home,” the pope wrote. “Consequently, priority must not be given to any other kind of concern, whatever its nature, such as the desire to avoid scandal, since there is absolutely no place in ministry for those who abuse minors.”

Francis became pope after the 2013 resignation of Benedict XVI, whose papacy was marred by the abuse cases. FRONTLINE explored the scandal in Secrets of the Vatican, which you can view below:

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