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Pope Francis Takes The Hardest Line On Clerical Abuse

With the arrest of former Polish Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, the Pope is showing that he will crack down on child sex abuse in his Church by ending any protection of criminals.

Pope Francis has vowed there will be no exemption from punishment for sex abusers.
Pope Francis has vowed there will be no exemption from punishment for sex abusers.
Andrea Tornielli


VATICANCITY — Back in May, this is what Pope Francis told journalists on the plane returning from his three-day trip to the Middle East: "In Argentina, we tell the privileged that they're "daddy's boys," but for anyone guilty of the terrible crime of abusing minors, there cannot be any exemption from punishment, nor privileges."

The pontiff also compared a priest's violence on a child to "black magic" — a real sacrilege. And with the sensational arrest of Jozef Wesolowski, the Vatican's former Apostolic nuncio to the Dominican Republic, who had already been convicted and defrocked by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Pope has demonstrated that he is acting accordingly. No privileges for the clerics. A former archbishop, who had previously enjoyed diplomatic immunity, has been turned over to authorities.

Wesolowski was placed under house arrest this week in what was the first-ever arrest of its kind inside the Vatican. He was recalled to Rome last year, after the Dominican media alleged he hired "rent boys," and was subsequently banished from the clergy after a canonical court found him guilty of sex abuse.

Two years ago, another sensational arrest put Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI's butler Paolo Gabriele, the Vatileaks "crow," behind bars. A chamber assistant who lived close to the Pope and copied his correspondence, Gabriele was just a layman. This time, however, that it's a member of the clergy — and a high-ranking one at that — signals change. The Holy See and its institutions are taking responsibility and acting "with the right and necessary severity," without using velvet gloves for those with red robes or Vatican passports.

Had he not been recalled, Wesolowski would have been arrested in Santo Domingo. Given the seriousness of the allegations and evidence gathered, the ex-nuncio who lured boys onto beaches could not continue to roam the streets of the Eternal City.

End the intrigue

It's said that Pope Francis was shocked by reading Wesolowski's case files. "A priest who does this, betrays the body of the Lord, because this priest should bring these children to holiness, but instead of that he abuses a child who trusts him. It is very serious."

The stories of six victims of pedophile priests from Germany, Ireland and the United Kingdom touched the pontiff deeply, and on July 7 he spent the entire morning with them, meeting them face-to-face. One woman, who was raped as a child, told him, "Yes, you will reduce these priests to the lay state, but after they leave the Church who controls them?" These words were left imprinted in the Pope's mind.

After the canonical process and dismissal from the clerical state, Wesolowski has had to answer for his crimes, and faces potential criminal prosecution from the Vatican itself, whose name is embossed in gold on the red cover of his passport. The Argentine pontiff didn't grant him any privileges.

In the fight against the clerical pedophilia phenomenon — and especially considering the many, many cover-ups of decades past — the man once known as Jorge Bergoglio has continued the work begun by Benedict XVI with great courage and determination. In 2010, at the height of the storm for abuse cases being discovered in many countries, scandalizing even some areas of his own Curia, Benedict said, "The greatest persecution of the Church comes not from its enemies outside, but arises from sin within the Church."

Wesolowski's arrest is a consistent step with the broader reform that Pope Francis is trying to implement in other areas, such as the Vatican's finances — in particular the IOR Vatican bank.

The determination to eliminate the privileges for the "daddy's boys," Francis is struggling to end the intrigue, alliances, power games, and, in some cases, dishonesty — all of the things that contributed to the early retirement of his predecessor.

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