Abuse in the backyard: ‘Pope wants to clean up’

Abuse in the backyard: ‘Pope wants to clean up’
Abuse in the backyard: ‘Pope wants to clean up’

“It’s a monstrous thing. It’s worse than anything.” For example, Pope Francis mentioned the sexual abuse of minors in a documentary that premiered last week at the Rome Film Festival.

Francis is serious about abuse. He has enacted new legislation, established committees and even held a synod on it with bishops from around the world. In 2019, he also drew up new rules for tackling the sexual abuse of minors for his own Vatican City. From duty to report to penalties for not reporting and an extension of the limitation period.

And now those rules can be put into practice: This afternoon, the first real hearing in a sexual abuse trial begins within the walls of Vatican City. Although there are understandably hardly any children within the church mini-state, there is a secondary boys’ school close to the building where Francis himself lives.

This Minor Seminary of Saint Pius X supplies choirboys and altar boys for Saint Peter’s, and even occasionally for the masses that the Pope dedicates in his own private chapel. Years of abuse would have taken place at this minor seminary, which would have been covered up all along.

The apprentice and the principal

Priest Gabriele Martinelli (28) is accused of abusing a fellow student from 2007 to 2012, first as a student and later as a supervisor. The charges are not tender: masturbation, anal penetration and threats. The former rector, Enrico Radice (71), is said to have known about it and covered the matter for years. He is said to have even helped Martinelli to continue his studies and become a priest.

The case came to light when in 2017 a roommate of the victim was expelled from school and approached a journalist. Reporting of the abuse prompted Francis to initiate legal proceedings, although the victim had not reported the crime within the time limit applicable at the time. But the Pope thought the matter was too important and pressed on.

This process should now become a model example of speedy justice and transparency. There may even be a few selected journalists present. A renowned former Attorney General of the Court of Rome has been appointed Head of Vatican Justice. A real iron-eater who, in addition to financial scandals, now also has to judge abuse.

Serial abuser

So it seems that the Pope wants to clean up his own backyard and show all bishops in the world how to deal effectively with abuse and cover-ups. Although it should be noted that both priests are very small fish in the pond of the abuse, and especially of the suspected cover-ups within the Church.

It is different with large fish. A report on American Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, a serial abuser who has managed to make a flashy career in spite of persistent rumors about his association with priest students, has been waiting for some years. Pope Francis has taken his cardinal’s hat and priesthood away from him, and has promised a comprehensive report that the press is still waiting for.

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