19 January 2017, The Tablet

View from Rome


Inside the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace hangs an icon of the Virgin Mary holding a finger to her lips. Titled Our Lady of Silence it was placed there on the instructions of Pope Francis. It was a not so subtle hint that those who work for the Church should not gossip, but it could equally be seen as an image for the way the Church has responded to clerical sexual abuse.

That scandal reared its head again this week with a new book by Italian journalist Emiliano Fittipaldi. Lussuria (Lust) reveals that roughly 1,200 abuse cases have been filed with the Holy See during Francis’ papacy, maintaining a depressingly similar pace to the last couple of years of Benedict XVI’s time in office. Mr Fittipaldi was one of the journalists threatened with jail by the Vatican for publishing sensitive documents that exposed financial mismanagement by Vatican officials: now he’s turned his attention to the abuse issue, alleging that Francis is doing very little to tackle the problem. Is this fair?

Francis has called for a zero tolerance approach to abuse, set up a commission to safeguard children and put in place new rules that will enable him to dismiss bishops who are guilty of covering up abuse. He’s also tough on the clericalist culture that protects abusive priests and has just appointed Boston Cardinal Séan O’Malley, who leads the papal safeguarding body, as a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), the department that handles abuse cases.

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