ROME — As the clerical sexual abuse scandal story momentarily shifted to Australia, where bishops have accepted 98 percent of reform recommendations made by a Royal Commission but rejected a call to lift the seal of the confessional, for the most part the last 24 hours have seemed a fairly slow stretch on the “pope cover-up” front.
Here’s a sampling of new developments.
On Friday, the Focolare movement expressed its support for Pope Francis. Founded in post-World War II Italy, Focolare is a lay movement emphasizing unity, which claims a global following of roughly 120,000.
“Holy Father, you can truly count on our full unity and fervid prayer facing these attacks aimed at discrediting your person and your action of renewal,” said Maria Voce, the leader of the Focolare movement.
“In every wound of the Church and of humanity,” Voce said, “we recognized the crucified and abandoned Christ, and, together with you, we look at Mary in order to live with courage your example as authentic disciples.”
The pontiff also drew a vote of confidence from outside the borders of the Catholic Church on Friday, August 31, 2018 with a joint statement from the Community of the Arab World in Italy, the International Secular Interreligious Confederation and an Italian lay group called “United to Unite.”
“Our position regarding the pope is very clear,” the statement read. “From the first day of his election, we’ve shared his positions, his initiatives and his declarations in favor of dialogue, peace, immigrants, and relations with the Arab and Muslim world,” it said.
Saying they want to support the pope against “his enemies inside and outside the Church,” the groups launched a Twitter hashtag: “#NessunoTocchiFrancesco,” meaning, “No on touches Francis.”
“Our support is determined and without ambiguity,” the groups said.
Italian papers on Friday reported that Archbishop Georg Gänswein, the personal aide of Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, has repeated his denial that Benedict “confirmed” the contents of an 11-page statement issued Sunday by Italian Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò.
In it, Viganò, a former papal ambassador in the United States, claimed Francis was informed in 2013 that Benedict had placed restrictions on ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick due to sexual misconduct concerns, and that Francis chose to ignore them.
In early reporting, some media outlets claimed that Benedict, or sources close to him, had “confirmed” those claims.
“[Benedict] has never seen the document that was published,” Gänswein told the Italian news agency Ansa. “He’s never read it, and he has not endorsed it. It’s all rubbish.”
In an indication that pressures for more sweeping reforms are building, the Diocese of Dallas, Texas, announced Thursday that the priests of the diocese along with Bishop Edward Burns have petitioned Francis to hold a special Synod of Bishops in the Vatican on the subject.
Topics they suggested should be treated include “the care for the safeguarding of children and the vulnerable, outreach to victims, the identity and lifestyle of clergy, the importance of healthy human formation within the presbyterate/religious community, etc.” The letter said that the synod topics “should address abuse of power, clericalism, accountability and the understanding of transparency in the Church.”
A Synod of Bishops is a summit of prelates from around the world, usually held in the Vatican for roughly three weeks and devoted to a topic perceived as especially important or urgent. Though synods are merely advisory and have no decision-making, their conclusions are generally taken seriously by popes in framing policy decisions.
Finally, there did not appear to be any atmosphere of crisis in the Vatican Friday, where Francis conducted business as usual: Two meetings in the morning with Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti of Perugia, Italy, president of the Italian bishops’ conference, and with the director of the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network, followed by a brief talk to a General Chapter of the Oblates of St. Joseph.