BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — A U.S. group that tracks clergy abuse called on Pope Francis to apologize Tuesday for what it called the Argentine church’s protection of two priests who were eventually convicted of abusing children.
The Bishop Accountability group cites the case of Father Julio Cesar Grassi, who ran the “Happy Children” foundation and was convicted of pedophilia in 2008, and Father Napoleon Sasso, convicted in 2007 of abusing girls at a soup kitchen in suburban Buenos Aires. Sasso had been moved to the kitchen by church authorities after he got into trouble for pedophilia in remote San Juan province.
Jorge Bergoglio, who became Argentina’s cardinal in 2001, wasn’t directly involved in any sex abuse scandals or coverups, but he failed to remove priests accused of sexually abusing their faithful, and refused to meet with the victims, their attorney Ernesto Moreau told The Associated Press.
“Bergoglio has been the strongest man in the Argentine church since the beginning of this century,” Moreau said, and yet “the leadership of the church has never done anything to remove these people from these places, and neither has it done anything to relieve the pain of the victims.”
Now Grassi is free on appeal, thanks in part to the church’s report. Before he was convicted, he thanked Bergoglio for “never abandoning him.”
Bishop Accountability co-director Anne Doyle says this shows Bergoglio was behind the curve in the Catholic church’s global struggle to deal with sex abuse by its priests, which began in 2002 after thousands of cases became public in the United States and around the world.
“We would be alarmed if the archbishop Bergoglio had done this in the ’60s or ’70s. That would be sad and disturbing. But the fact that he did this just five years ago, when other bishops in other countries were meeting victims and implementing tough reporting laws, it puts him behind some of his American counterparts, that’s for sure,” Doyle told the AP.
The group said that to send a message of zero tolerance, Francis should tell the Buenos Aires archdiocese to release the complete files on these two cases; publicly identify any priests who are “credibly accused”; publicly endorse the mandatory reporting by church officials to law enforcement of any suspected abuse; admit that he was wrong to defend abusive priests; apologize to the victims of Grassi and Sasso; and offer to meet with the victims now.
Doyle noted that The Washington Post reported on these cases just as Francis was being installed as pope in a Vatican ceremony seen around the world.
“The victims of these two priests are the very children of God about whom he was speaking in his homily today,” she said. “They are the most vulnerable of the poor. We hope that Francis will seize this as a priority and reach out to the victims and rectify his terrible insensitivity to them when he was archbishop.”
Messages left by phone and email by the AP seeking comment from the Buenos Aires archbishopric’s press office were not immediately returned Tuesday.