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Catholic Church Can’t Police Itself After Pennsylvania Child Sex Scandal, Says Father James Martin

Pope Francis faces criticism and anger for his reaction this week to the jaw-dropping allegations of child sex abuse by more than 300 Roman Catholic priests in Pennsylvania. 

A grand jury earlier this month released a roughly 900-page report containing disturbing claims of abuse of more than 1,000 children. 

Pope Francis on Monday issued a letter saying, in part, “May fasting and prayer open our ears to the hushed pain felt by children, young people and the disabled.” 

Father James Martin, a Jesuit priest and editor-at-large of America Magazine, told Worldview host Jerome McDonnell that he understands why the pope’s comments are hurtful. 

“Any sort of implication that victims, God forbid, or their families have to pray or fast, I think is really anathema,” Martin said. 

Martin joined Worldview on Tuesday right before he caught a flight to meet Pope Francis in Ireland, where the church has also struggled to handle decades of child abuse allegations. 

Here are some interview highlights. 

Pope Francis’ letter in response to the Pennsylvania scandal

Father James Martin: I think that the frustration is that it didn’t come with more specific action plans — how are we going to hold the bishops more accountable? 

I, myself, had a little concern with the idea he’s calling the whole church to prayer and fasting. You know, you look at that theologically, you know, we’re all one. We’re all part of the church. But any sort of implication that victims, God forbid, or their families have to pray or fast, I think is really anathema. I think that’s what people were responding to. 

But it’s basically saying we all need to work together. My bigger concern was I wish it were a little heavier on action. You know, what’s he going to do, specifically to hold bishops more accountable for their actions in the past. 

What the church, bishops needs to do

Martin: The question is what to do with bishops who covered these things up? We saw in the case of Cardinal [Bernard] Law that people were very angry with the way that he was treated by the Vatican. They thought it was too soft, and I would agree. And so that’s the missing link. … 

Priests with credible accusations were removed immediately. But bishops were not. And so that’s the problem. 

And the second part is how do you deal with bishops who covered these things up and moved people around? ...

I don’t think mass resignations are such a bad idea, frankly. I know that’s a little extreme, but I think what they did in Chile is important. Bishops, as a body, represent the church. … And in as much as bishops represent the church, I think that they might want to think about these mass resignations as a really important signal or symbol to the faithful that they take this seriously as a group. 

What he expects to hear from Pope Francis in Ireland

Martin: The pope is certainly going to address this. They just announced this morning that he’s meeting with victims of abuse, survivors. And so he has to address this. And if he doesn’t address it in his homilies or his remarks, he will be asked the questions on the plane ride home by the media. 

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button above to listen to the entire conversation.

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