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Pope Francis has been criticised by victims’ groups for what they say is an inadequate response to questions about clerical child abuse that he gave in an interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera on Wednesday.
“The Catholic Church is probably the only public institution to act with transparency and responsibility [on the issue],” the Pope claimed. “No one has done more. And yet the Church is the only one to be attacked.”
Victims’ advocates said his tone was reminiscent of the defensive rhetoric adopted by the Vatican 10 years ago.
“Under Pope Francis the Vatican continues to deny its role in creating and maintaining a culture where upholding the reputation of the Church is prioritised over the safety of children,” said Maeve Lewis, executive director of the Irish victims' support group One in Four.
Unlike his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis has rarely spoken out about abuse. Instead, he has focused on projecting his merciful vision of the Church and reforming the Vatican bureaucracy.
The Vatican spokesman, the Fr Federico Lombardi SJ, said on Wednesday that the upheaval of those reforms had delayed getting a promised commission on abuse off the ground. But he said the commission would eventually propose new initiatives to protect children and be a model for the Church and society at large.
In the Corriere della Sera interview Pope Francis acknowledged the “profound” wounds abuse leaves and credited Pope Benedict with having transformed the way the Church deals with the question. Benedict XVI in 2001 took over handling abuse cases because bishops were moving paedophiles around rather than punishing them. He updated the Vatican's in-house norms and in his final two years as Pope, laicised nearly 400 priests.