New Report Raises Questions about Pope Francis’ Response to Sex Abuse Scandal

The Pew Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life is out with a new poll on American Catholics’ views on the new pope: almost three-quarters of them are “happy” with the choice, Pew reports. 

What should the new pope’s priorities be, for American Catholics? According to Pew, a top priority is dealing with the sex abuse scandal:

Seven-in-ten Catholics say that addressing the sex abuse scandal should be “a top priority” for Francis. U.S. Catholics as a whole attach less importance to other possible priorities on the list. But among Catholics who say they attend Mass at least once a week, roughly equal numbers cite “standing up for traditional moral values” (65%) and “addressing the sex abuse scandal” (63%) as top priorities for the new pope. By contrast, among Catholics overall 49% say that standing up for traditional moral values should be “a top priority” for Pope Francis. Roughly four-in-ten Catholics or fewer think that spreading the Catholic faith (39%), addressing the priest shortage (36%) and reforming the Vatican bureaucracy (35%) should be top priorities for the new pope.

This news coincides with an extensive report in the Washington Post on Pope Francis’ reaction (as Archbishop Bergoglio) to the sex abuse scandal in Argentina, which won’t inspire much confidence or optimism about his possible global response to the scandal as pope:

Father Julio Cesar Grassi was a celebrity in the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires. The young, dynamic, media-savvy priest networked with wealthy Argentines to fund an array of schools, orphanages and job training programs for poor and abandoned youths, winning praise from Argentine politicians and his superior, Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio.

Grassi called his foundation Felices los Niños, “Happy Children.”

Yet in the years after Grassi’s conviction, Bergoglio—now Pope Francis—has declined to meet with the victim of the priest’s crimes or the victims of other predations by clergy under his leadership. He did not offer personal apologies or financial restitution, even in cases in which the crimes were denounced by other members of the church and the offending priests were sent to jail.

Grassi, the proprietor of the creepily-named “Happy Children” foundation was reportedly close to Bergoglio, according to the Post, and “was not expelled from the priesthood after the guilty verdict. Instead, church officials led by Bergoglio commissioned a lengthy private report arguing that Grassi was innocent.” Prosecutors maintain Grassi has avoided jail time owing to the report, despite being charged with molesting three boys as young as 9 years old, and being convicted of abusing one boy, the Post reports. Families who charged their children—one three years old—were abused by another priest, Father Mario Napoleon Sasso, say that Archbishop Bergoglio did not respond to their requests to see him about the abuse. Sasso was later convicted, sentenced to 17 years in prison, but has since been paroled.

Sarah Posner, author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, covers politics and religion. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, The American ProspectThe NationSalon, and other publications. Follow her on TwitterRSS feed Email