When he was elevated to Pope a decade ago, there was a widespread hope that Pope Francis would take effective steps to remedy the sexual abuse crisis in the Church. It is now clear that Francis has utterly failed in this regard. His Pontifical Academy for the Protection of Minors has fallen apart and lost all credibility amid the resignation of Fr. Hans Zollner earlier this year. At the time, Zollner criticized the Commission’s shortcomings “in the areas of responsibility, compliance, accountability and transparency,” particularly criticizing the lack of any clarity about the Commission’s relationship to the Dicastery for the Doctrine of Faith (DDF), which oversees sex abuse investigations. At the time, the Pillar noted, “close and expert observers have complained for years about the wheels falling off the Vatican’s reform efforts — or complained that there were no wheels there to begin with.”
Then, this summer, Francis named Archbishop Tucho Fernandez to lead the DDF. This, despite Fernandez’s role in covering up sex abuse in his own Diocese of La Plata and his authorship of a book of erotic poetry directed at teenagers.
There is also Francis’s own disturbing role in personally covering for the serial sex abuser Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta. In 2022, Zanchetta was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison for sexually assualting two former seminarians. As The Pillar noted, “despite mounting complaints from local priests [about Bishop Zanchetta’s disturbing conduct towards seminarians], Francis sided with [Bishop Zanchetta] According to the former vicar general of the diocese, even after obscene photographs of the bishop and of young men were discovered on Zanchetta’s phone, the pope accepted his explanation that he’d been hacked by ‘conservatives’ and ‘anti-Francis’ forces in the diocese.” Even after accepting Zanchetta’s resignation, Francis “creat[ed] a sinecure position for him in the curia, and g[ave] him a home in the Vatican hotel where the pope himself lives.”
And perhaps most notoriously, Francis attempted to rehabilitate the predator Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, lifting restrictions on his activities and utilizing him as an advisor, before McCarrick’s abuse was publicly exposed. McCarrick has close links to many American bishops close to Francis. There have been similar inaction from the Vatican in the cases of the abuser Bishop Carlos Belo, predator Bishop Michel Santier, and the abuser priest Fr. Carlos Buela, founder of the Institute of the Incarnate Word— which had close links to McCarrick.
The most brazen example is now unfolding before our eyes: Francis’s attempt to rehabilitate his close friend Marko Rupnik. Rupnik serially used his priestly office and status as a religious artist to commit horrible crimes of sexual abuse against religious sisters. “Father Rupnik is a voracious sexual predator” who “spent several decades manipulating and tormenting vulnerable women into acting out quasi-spiritual sexual fantasies for his gratification.” Rupnik “used the artistic process of creating his work to groom and abuse women. The act of creating his work was bound up with the act of abusing his victims, sometimes in overtly blasphemous ways — they were not separate events but mutually dependent.”
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