Pope says penance is punishment enough for abusive priests

In an extraordinary admission, buried in a speech made at the Vatican on 8 September, the Pope has revealed that he does not intend to change anything that might challenge the culture of child abuse that is rife in his church.

In a speech given at his general audience, the pope said that ‘penance’ is all that is required to punish child abusers and that no structural changes are needed.

But Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society, said: “The idea that a few Hail Marys or a trip to a counselling clinic is sufficient punishment for child abusers is disgraceful. This is what the church has been doing for decades – permitting abusing priests to escape justice by keeping their crimes secret and sometimes paying to silence victims.

“It is now time that this culture of secrecy and cover-up was roundly challenged within the church. The Vatican could begin by handing over all the files they hold on child abuse cases to the legal authorities so that priests who have defiled children can be properly tried. As it stands, the Pope is clearly happy for the criminal priests to be protected and punished only with token penances, or at worst and rarely, with the defrocking of a cleric, provided they are not too senior.”

The speech "Continuing reflection on St Hildegard" can be seen at Zenit, the Vatican’s own site.

The relevant passage reads: “Hildegard opposed the movement of German Cathars. They -- Cathar literally means "pure" -- advocated a radical reform of the Church, above all to combat the abuses of the clergy. She reproved them harshly for wishing to subvert the very nature of the Church, reminding them that a true renewal of the ecclesial community is not achieved so much with a change of structures, but by a sincere spirit of penance and an active path of conversion. This is a message that we must never forget.