Pope Francis has asked for forgiveness for scandals at the Vatican and in Rome, an apparent reference to two cases of priests and gay sex that were revealed this month during a major meeting of bishops.
“Today ... in the name of the Church, I ask you for forgiveness for the scandals that have occurred recently, either in Rome or in the Vatican,” Francis said in unprepared remarks during his weekly audience in St Peter’s Square. “I ask you for forgiveness,” he said before tens of thousands of people, who applauded. “It is inevitable that scandals happen, but ‘woe to that man by whom the offence cometh’!” he said, quoting a passage from the Bible.
The Pope then read his prepared address and did not elaborate, but there have been two scandals involving the Vatican, and the Church in Rome, in the past two weeks. On October 3, a Polish monsignor, Krzysztof Charamsa, who had been working in the Vatican’s doctrinal office since 2003, held a packed news conference and disclosed he was gay and living with another man.
The Vatican dismissed Charamsa, a theologian, from his job there, and from teaching assignments in pontifical universities in Rome.
A spokesman said at the time that Charamsa’s high-profile coming-out, on the eve of a meeting of world bishops at the Vatican, was “grave and irresponsible”. It accused him of trying to exert “undue media pressure” on the bishops’ debate on family issues, including the Church’s position on gay people. After he was fired, Charamsa gave interviews to Spanish and Italian media, criticising the Church’s rule on celibacy for the clergy.
The Pope also appeared to be referring to a scandal exposed in the Italian media last week, about an order of priests who run a parish in a well-to-do neighbourhood in Rome. Parishioners in Santa Teresa d’Avila wrote to local Church officials alleging that a clergyman there had had encounters with “vulnerable adults”.
Newspapers said these took place in an adjacent park frequented by male prostitutes. According to the letter, which was published in the media, parishioners said they had assembled evidence about the clergyman’s illicit activities and were furious to discover he had been transferred to another part of Italy, instead of being disciplined.
Since his election in 2013, the Pope has asked forgiveness for sexual abuse of children by the clergy and for the Church’s historical treatment of Protestants and indigenous people.
Vatican expert Joshua McElwee, writing in the National Catholic Reporter, described the apology yesterday as an “extraordinary step”. Francis’s synod has been rocked by revelations that a dozen conservative cardinals wrote to him with concerns about the way the meeting was being run.
Vatican analyst, Massimo Franco, wrote in the Corriere della Sera daily that it appeared there was a bid to “recreate the climate of Vatileaks... an operation that’s been planned for some time, and which aims at discrediting not the synod, but the two years of the Argentinian pope”.
Pope Francis has faced other problems in recent weeks. Rome’s mayor, Ignazio Marino, resigned amid a scandal of his own doing. But Marino’s downfall followed widespread criticism within the Church that the city was ill-prepared to handle the millions of pilgrims expected for Francis’ Jubilee Year of Mercy, which starts in December.
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