At the Vatican, Francis will be ultimately responsible for the work of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which last year told the church’s bishops conferences around the globe to draw up comprehensive guidelines to deal with sexually abusive clergy. It gave the bishops a year to draft guidelines to better screen priests, root out potential abusers, educate laity about the problem and require bishops to report suspected abuse to civil authorities where civil reporting laws exist.
The pope’s authorized biographer, Sergio Rubin, said before Bergoglio was elected pope last week that he had drawn an increasingly tough line on clergy abuse. Bergoglio insisted that accused priests face trial and imposed a thorough screening process in an attempt to weed out future problems, Rubin said.
In last year’s book On Heaven and Earth, in which Bergoglio and Rabbi Abraham Skorka engage in a religious dialogue, the future pope said the church should not ignore the sexual abuse of minors by priests.
“When that happens, we must never turn a blind eye. You cannot be in a position of power and destroy the life of another person,” he said, adding that priests guilty of such offenses should be stripped of their right to perform priestly duties.
However, Bishop Accountability said the cases of Grassi and Sasso show that Bergoglio and the Argentine church were slow to recognize the problem and act against it.
Grassi was well-known in Buenos Aires for persuading celebrities to donate to his Happy Children foundation, which ran orphanages and social outreach programs. Before he was convicted of abusing a child, Grassi praised Bergoglio for “never abandoning him.” He is free while appealing the conviction.
Sasso was assigned to the soup kitchen, which was at a chapel where his bedroom shared the only bathroom, after living in a home for wayward priests where he had been sent after accusations of pedophilia were raised against him in remote San Juan Province.
“The bathroom had two doors. The girls would come in through the outside door and the priest would bring them into his bedroom through the other, sexually abusing the girls,” Moreau said. “These were really poor people, who were there for free meals while their parents worked. They found an enormous amount of child pornography on his computer, semen, condoms.”
It was a medical priest and a nun who discovered that Sasso had abused 25 girls aged three to 16, but when they informed church officials, they were told to “remain patient” and nothing was done, Moreau said. Eventually, they sought out higher authorities and the case was taken up by the criminal courts, but the mid-level officials who covered up are still in their posts, while the priest and nun were forced to work elsewhere, the lawyer said.
Sasso later became a fugitive and hid out for a year inside church property in the same diocese where the abuse occurred, Moreau said.
Sasso now gets one-day monthly furloughs from prison after serving half of a 17-year sentence for abusing five girls.
In the US, confidential files on hundreds of pedophile priests have been released either through civil litigation, settlements or court orders. The contents have revealed how top church officials worked behind the scenes to control the sex abuse scandal and keep it from authorities, as well as parishioners.