Vatican Furiously Walks Back Pope’s Understatement of Sexual Abuse Problem

When the pope told an Italian paper on Sunday that the rate of pedophilia in the church was about two percent (a number that is 50 percent lower than the rate found in the US report of the problem commissioned by the bishops) it seemed a refreshing acknowledgement of the potential severity of the problem—until the Vatican began furiously trying to walk the comments back.

A Vatican spokesperson said the interview wasn’t an interview “in the normal use of the word” and that the quote came from the journalist’s “own memory” of the conversation and that “it is not an exact transcription of a recording.”

This, less than two weeks after Francis’ meeting with survivors of clerical sexual abuse garnered widespread media coverage and promises of accountability—although it was denounced by some survivors’ groups as a PR stunt—new evidence has surfaced of the deep layers of denial and deception that still exist within the church on the issue.

The canon lawyer who used to advise the St. Paul-Minneapolis archdiocese on handling cases of abuse has provided sworn testimony revealing a pattern of “mistakes, oversights and omissions” in the handling of abuse. Jennifer Haselberger, who served as chancellor of the archdiocese and a victim’s advocate from 2004 until 2013, accused the diocese of having a “cavalier attitude” toward the protection of children, including failing to follow-up on her concerns about abusive priests who were improperly monitored, the National Catholic Reporter reports.

Among her accusations, she said the priest charged with implementing the U.S. bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People only “gave lip service to the principles” and “often failed to implement them.” She also said as of 2013, the diocese had failed to complete the required checks on all priests, had an “outdated and under-funded monitoring program for offending priests,” and had impeded efforts to investigate potentially abusive active priests and allow auditors to access diocesan records. She said she identified some 20 priests accused of abuse who were still in active ministry.

Separately, the archbishop of the diocese, John Nienstedt, is facing calls to resign after it became public that he is under investigation for “‘multiple allegations’ of inappropriate sexual conduct with seminarians, priests, and other men,” Commonweal reports. Investigators for the diocese reportedly have “ten sworn statements alleging sexual impropriety on the part of the archbishop dating from his time as a priest in the Archdiocese of Detroit, as Bishop of New Ulm, and while coadjutor and archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis.”

In pretty much the best denial ever, Nienstedt, who is an outspoken opponent of same-sex marriage, denied ever making any sexual advances and noted that none of the accusations “involve minors or illegal or criminal behavior.” (New slogan for the church: The sex that our celibate priests don’t have is consensual…and only with adults.)

So interviews aren’t interviews, diocesan offices charged with protecting children are reportedly protecting their backs, and clerical defenders of “traditional” marriage have an alleged expansive history of (unmarried) homosexual activity. Maybe it’s time for another photo op.