Francis has a lot of buffers.

The Catholic sex abuse scandal has two parts. The first part is the abuse itself. The second part is the institutional efforts to cover it up.

And now we are in the process of slowly, painfully uncovering these decades and centuries of crime.

This process is not part of the scandal.

The uncovering is dreadful. It is agonizing. It is, to use one of Francis’ favored words, messy. It’s always horrifying to witness the uncovering of hidden sin. But the uncovering is not part of the scandal. It is the remedy for the scandal, if there can be a remedy.

And yet Pope Francis, in his homily addressed to bishops today, said:

“In these times, it seems like the ‘Great Accuser’ has been unchained and is attacking bishops. True, we are all sinners, we bishops. He tries to uncover the sins, so they are visible in order to scandalize the people. The ‘Great Accuser’, as he himself says to God in the first chapter of the Book of Job, ‘roams the earth looking for someone to accuse’. A bishop’s strength against the ‘Great Accuser’ is prayer, that of Jesus and his own, and the humility of being chosen and remaining close to the people of God, without seeking an aristocratic life that removes this unction. Let us pray, today, for our bishops: for me, for those who are here, and for all the bishops throughout the world.”

This was not plucked out of context by some uncharitable, click-farming rag. It was chosen for publication by the Vatican news service itself. It is the Pope’s message.

In the past week, it seemed that Francis was making an effort to preach in ways that could possibly be construed as general pious reflections on scripture. But in today’s homily, he’s clearly referring directly to the scandal — or, more accurately, to the investigation of the scandal. He does not speak of the need to be more transparent. He does not speak of the need to repent, nor for the need to reform the Church. He does not speak of the horror of sin. He does not speak of the victims. Instead, he casts the bishops themselves as the victims — and some of the nine who advise him are themselves accused of covering up abuse.

Has Pope Francis spoken out about the abuse? Sure. He was more than willing to agree that terrible things had been done, and that some people ought to be very sorry indeed — until those accusations were turned on him. Then we heard that silence was holy, and that those who uncover sin are Satan.

I’ll say it again: Francis sounds like an abuser.

I am praying for bishops, and I am praying for the Pope, as he asked us to do. I am praying especially for those bishops who have been struggling mightily to show their flock they, at least, understand the profound horror we’re uncovering day by day, and that they want it to be uncovered. There are some good bishops. Some have been doing public penance. Some have called for independent reviews of their dioceses’ past, opening up records to the public and to the law. Some have demanded that the magisterium stop acting like this is business as usual and treat this scandal like the emergency it is.

And some have accused him of being part of the cover-up.

Are Viganò’s claims credible? I have no idea. I hope to God he’s wrong. And if Viganò himself is guilty, then he, too, should be investigated and prosecuted. But I keep thinking back to the courtroom scene in The Godfather II, where Willie Chichi tells the investigative committee, “Yeah, the family had a lotta buffers.”  If Viganò was part of the crime family that fed so many children and seminarians into the furnace, then that means he’s the one who knows what went on and how it was hidden. That’s how you get these guys: You get them to turn each other in.

So don’t trust accusers blindly, but listen to them. Look at what they claim, and find out for yourself whether it’s true or not. Open yourself to investigation. Turn over files. Uncover sin. Let the light in. Maybe stop calling investigators “Satan,” I don’t know.

Instead, the family closes ranks, and we hear absurdly tone-deaf assurances that Francis’ nine Cardinal advisors are in “full solidarity” with the Pope. I bloody well bet they are. The man has a lot of buffers.

Image by Long Thiên via Flicker (Public Domain)

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23 thoughts on “Francis has a lot of buffers.”

  1. Does the Holy Spirit choose the Pope? Yes. Is Francis the successor to Peter? Yes. Should mercy–God’s mercy–be mocked? No. Should care for creation (your snark about litter in the ocean in an earlier anti-Francis screed) be mocked? No. Should Catholics keep fighting? No. Simcha, your critiques seem to be limited to priests, popes, and bishops who don’t share your particular emphases on certain social teachings. As such, it’s difficult to engage with your writing anymore. Christ Physician, heal us all.

    1. “Does the Holy Spirit choose the Pope?” Well, no, actually, according to many authorities, including both Pope Benedict XVI, and friends of Pope Francis like Fr. James Martin. Here are a few good sources on that question, from both left and right:

      I don’t think I’ve read in any credible source – such as a reputable modern theologian or a Father or Doctor of the Church, any such sweeping claim as you make here for the divine selection of the Pope.

    2. First of all, Mia, your comments betray a sort of naïve juvenile mentality that the Holy Spirit sprinkles fairy dust over the enclave to ensure the election of a wonderful man to lead the Church.

      Uh, no.

      If you knew anything at all about history — and the history of the papacy in particular — you would know that’s not true.

      On the other hand, God, whose designs are not fathomable to the human mind, may sometimes work His purposes through, or perhaps in spite of, weakness and failure and evil.

      Therefore, in a surpassingly ironic and unknown way, the lies and corruption of The Merciful One indeed serve His plan — maybe, in the situation at hand, His design to finally purge the Church of the cockroaches who now infest Her.

      In any case, if it’s OK with you (and even if it’s not), I’ll “keep fighting.”

      But you go ahead and surrender our Spiritual Mother to these cretins and scum.

      On your side: a corrupt Pope…and all the powers of the World who are propping him and his friends up. On my side: Christ, our Blessed Mother, Saint Michael, and the angels and saints.

      I like my side’s odds!

  2. In news from today’s edition of The Onion, Bishop Bransfield (Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston West Virginia) has resigned after an investigation was opened into credible reports of his sexual misconduct “with adults.”

    Other reports suggested that Bransfield worked with (former) Cardinal McCarrick on the cash cow Papal Foundation, while the Philadelphia Inquirer published a story containing a claim that the Bishop had engaged in sexual relations with “adolescent boys.”

    West Virginia’s Attorney General announced his intention to open a separate (non-Church) investigation into Bransfield’s actions.

    While this was going on, the Vatican released a photo of The Merciful One yukking it up — yes, everyone was all smiles and laughs — with Cardinal DiNardo and the delegation of American churchmen in Rome to discuss the (evidently comical) crisis.

    Before this meeting, The Merciful One was again in fine form, yet again likening to Satan those who would dare ask impertinent questions about or presume to investigate the noxious crimes we’ve been reading about.

    Somebody should advise the West Virginia Attorney General that he’s a tool of Satan.

    Burn it down, guys. Burn the whole rotten, corrupt thing down. And from the ashes will again arise the True Church — the Bride of Christ, purified of the scum who are presently defiling Her.

    1. You missed a layer of irony here: did you notice that one of the yukker-uppers in the photo shoot was none other than Bishop Bransfield’s nephew, now (apparently) Secretary of the USCCB? Not that I know anything against him personally, but it does make one wonder about circles of power, influence, and nepotism, doesn’t it, at least a bit?

  3. I have been a great supporter of Pope Francis and especially found his books on mercy helpful.

    I am also a survivor of severe sexual abuse and a therapist.

    I think it is most important to remember that enabling perpetrators hurts the victim because a part of the power of the perpetrator holds over the victim is the secrecy. If one wants to help victims recover, then breaking the secrecy and exposing the perpetrator is essential and necessary (and, of course, not sufficient).

    I do not know if the Pope thinks this way. From what I can read of his actions and behaviors, he does not appear to think this way. I have been reading Rod Dreher’s trip reports from Italy–I strongly recommend them when trying to decipher when reading about what the Pope says. Also, I have found that the translations of the Pope’s words are often suspect and do not necessarily convey his meanings.

    That said, at this point, I see the Church hierarchy acting the same as the “cosa nostra”, to quote former Governor Keating (I believe). I do not see the Pope acting against this behavior of the Church hierarchy. I do read about his abysmal handling of the Cardinal Barros affair in Chile. Something is amiss. I pray for him.

    By the way, I am super excited by all of this exposure of the abuse and its coverup and I believe it is a work of the Holy Spirit. If you are worried about the Church, realize how bad things already are and have been and fear not. I really believe God is at work!

    1. I agree that it is the work of the Holy Spirit. We must keep that in mind: what is coming to light is terrible, but the fact that it is coming to light is not terrible.

  4. The pope sounds like an abuser? Naaaa. He sounds like he is channeling late comedian Flip Wiilson’s Routine ‘ The devil made me do it’. Sure ! Shift the blame to the devil. The bishops couldn’t help themselves ?? ? The instructions are Avoid scandal ( don’t do it ) But after scandal had happened, not talking about it is covering it up. Two entirely different things.

  5. Buffers indeed.

    The Catholic Church under The Merciful One’s leadership has become a walking, talking caricature. The bilge issuing from his mouth reads like something straight from The Onion.

    Not to worry though. A big meeting has been called for next February. Yeah, that will fix everything.

    Meanwhile, who knows, we might even get a commission…or an “investigation,” conducted, of course, by people who are either themselves implicated in the crime or who answer to those guilty of the crime.

    Yeah, that will get to the bottom of this pit of corruption and slime alright. Thank God the “Holy” “Father” has everything in hand!

    And just to show how tough and unflinching he really is, rumor has it that he may even take the totally rad step of accepting Wuerl’s resignation.

    Wow, now that’s what I call decisive and courageous action!

    Seriously, folks, the only thing that can save the Church now is divine intervention. Our Lady, Saint Michael, whoever. I’ve no doubt it will come. The only question is when — and how many people will lose their faith and souls beforehand.

  6. I too have wondered and agonized as to why Francis would remain silent, recasting any attempt at clarity as an offense against charity. My only conclusion is that he just does not think that the laity need to be reassured here. He does not want to be questioned, and he does not think that there is anything particularly egregious in the revelations of the American press. In this, I’m sorry to say, I have to agree with Simcha’s assessment. He sounds like an arrogant, manipulative guy flexing his muscles while we little people cringe.

    Was the Holy Father ever a pastor? I haven’t read a biography, but the little I’ve read seems to suggest that he was ordained, then sent for higher studies, then immediately made a professor, then a seminary formator, etc. You know, a case could be made that he is behaving in this way out of sheer ignorance, and like Simcha says, because he is so well buffered.

    Perhaps he really honestly doesn’t know what lay people are like, or what we need, or who we are — he understands the poorest of the poor, and what justice demands for them, but he doesn’t get what the rest of us need. We have our basic bodily needs met; but we need truth and clarity.

    In any event, this silence, and the craven excuses for it, only do greater and greater damage. To be told that I should forget about McCarrick (and others) corrupting, defiling, raping ANYONE, and instead focus on the health of the environment, is like having a bleeding wound spit into and being told that I should be more concerned about correcting my bad breath.

    1. I think your point about his lack of pastoral experience is dead on. Also, besides his lack of exposure to real live lay people, there’s also the problem that he’s coming from what is (at least from an American perspective) an insanely elitist society where the privileged hardly interact with those under them, except in master-servant relationships. Or at least that’s what I’ve gathered from all the South Americans I’ve ever known well.

      Which makes me wonder how much he actually knows about “the poorest of the poor” either. I mean, I know he talks a good game about “going to the peripheries,” but I have a hard time believing the most urgent concerns for the world’s poor are communion for the divorced and remarried and abolishing capital punishment. Both of which seem to me, as they say, first world problems.

  7. I would like to bring attention to an article in, 9/6/18, entitled “ Flirting With Schism” by Massimo Faggioli. I thought it was a good analyst of what is happening .

    I believe Pope Francis was speaking to a group of bishops, not the entire church and we don’t really know all Pope Francis says, especially here in the USA. As a sex abuse victim myself I really don’t see Pope Francis as speaking like an abuser.

    1. Agreed. I think the Holy Father is speaking to the ‘rad trads’ amongst the bishops & cardinals, not addressing the sex abuse scandal in this instance.

      1. If so, why is he speaking to so small a part of his audience when lay people are crying out for evidence of pastoral concern from their Pope?

    2. First, we do know what Pope Francis is saying. It is all released in official transcripts. Bishop or not, is it true that Satan is the one who wants the truth out there?
      Second, Faggioli is tribal – all for criticising and rebuffing Pope Benedict, but now that he has a fellow traveler on the throne, he has found a sudden loyalty to the Holy See. It is not difficult to imagine how he would turn his venom against Benedict if this had happened under his reign. Francis gets a pass, not just from Faggioli, but from all the liberal media, because they’ve got their guy on the throne and they don’t want him to go away.
      Third, abusers use these manipulations. Every Psychologist will tell you this. Abused people sometimes need years of counseling to uncover the layers of manipulation, but will suddenly see that they have been gaslighted, accused, made to feel like the problem, projected upon, etc. etc.

  8. Francis’ poor judgment is part of his ‘theology of mercy’, where sins are just sins to be forgotten by God and us, while crimes are different. Canonical violations, in Francis’ rhetoric are not laws, but just norms. Cardinals sleeping with seminarians is just sin. It’s no big deal. It certainly isn’t as big a deal as misunderstanding canon law in a legal way.

  9. I feel like you are being especially harsh on this statement and the situation in general. We all have prejudices and things that cause us to be more likely to believe or disbelieve. In my case it is hard to hear accusations against Pope Francis. But in your case, I don’t hear an open mind either. To me when I hear “The Great Accuser” I feel like he is saying that people are eager to accuse and malign others. To me this is quite different from your interpretation of his words: that those who uncover sin are Satan. Am I missing something?

    1. “The Great Accuser” is a name for Satan in the passage of Job that Pope Francis refers explicitly to. It’s a title for the devil that recurs elsewhere eg in Revelation. This is not some interpretation on Simcha’s part; Pope Francis seems to be conflating bringing the church’s sins to light with demonic false accusation.

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