Pope Francis has endorsed an approach of “zero tolerance” toward all members of the church guilty of sexually abusing minors or vulnerable adults.
Having listened to abuse survivors and having made what he described as a mistake in approving a more lenient set of sanctions against an Italian priest abuser, the pope said he has decided whoever has been proven guilty of abuse has no right to an appeal, and he will never grant a papal pardon.
“Why? Simply because the person who does this [sexually abuses minors] is sick. It is a sickness,” he told his advisory commission on child protection during an audience at the Vatican Sept. 21.
Members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, including its president — Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston — were meeting in Rome Sept. 21-23 for their plenary assembly.
The Catholic Church has been “late” in facing and, therefore, properly addressing the sin of sexual abuse by its members, the pope said.
He said proof that an ordained minister has abused a minor “is sufficient [reason] to receive no recourse” for an appeal. “If there is proof. End of story,” the pope said; the sentence “is definitive.”
And, he added, he has never and would never grant a papal pardon to a proven perpetrator.
The reasoning has nothing to do with being mean-spirited, but because an abuser is sick and is suffering from “a sickness.”
The pope recounted a decision he has now come to regret: that of agreeing to a more lenient sanction against an Italian priest, rather than laicizing him as was recommended.
Two years later, the priest abused again, and Pope Francis said he has since learned “it’s a terrible sickness” that requires a different approach.