Pope Francis Warns Against Division in Response to Church Scandals

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Pope Francis Warns Against Division in Response to Church Scandals

Pope Francis, flanked by Monsignor Leonardo Sapienza, delivered his Christmas greetings to Vatican officials on Monday.

Photo: vincenzo pinto/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

ROME— Pope Francis urged hope and warned against polarization in response to crisis in the Catholic Church, at the end of a year marked by scandals over financial dealings and sex abuse that besmirched the reputations of the last three popes and other prominent clerics.

A Vatican report revealed in November that Pope Francis and his two immediate predecessors had failed for years to discipline U.S. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick for sexual misconduct. Separately, the church was dogged during 2020 by scandals over a loss-making investment purchase in London real estate by the Vatican’s powerful Secretariat of State.

In his Christmas speech to Vatican officials on Monday, Pope Francis cautioned against “judging the church hastily on the basis of the crises caused by scandals past and present.…Problems immediately end up in the newspapers—this happens every day—while signs of hope only make the news much later, if at all.”

The Vatican has charged an Italian businessman with extortion, embezzlement, fraud and money laundering in connection with the real-estate investment.

Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu, who oversaw the investment during his time at the secretariat, resigned in September, though the Vatican hasn’t explained why. The cardinal has denied wrongdoing. In November, the Vatican announced that the secretariat would no longer manage its own investments, which would be transferred to the Holy See’s treasury.

According to the report on former Cardinal McCarrick, St. John Paul II appointed the cleric as archbishop of Washington, D.C., in 2000 despite warnings that he had been accused of pedophilia and of sharing his bed with adult seminarians. Under Pope Benedict XVI, the Vatican pressed Mr. McCarrick to resign from the Washington role and keep a low profile, but didn’t subject him to a church trial. Pope Francis followed the lead of his predecessors and assumed that the allegations had been rejected. Mr. McCarrick, who was dismissed from the priesthood last year, has denied wrongdoing.

Jimmy Pliska, of Scranton, Pa., is one of those who are seeking compensation from the church for sexual abuse that happened many years ago. If he accepts a settlement, he fears he may never know the truth about his alleged abuser. Photo: Alexander Hotz/WSJ. (Originally Published July 11, 2019)

In Monday’s speech, Pope Francis called on church leaders to address the crisis in a collaborative way.

“When the church is viewed in terms of conflict—right versus left, progressive versus traditionalist—she becomes fragmented and polarized, distorting and betraying her true nature,” he said.

While stressing the need for new ways to spread the Gospel, the pope warned against the idea of the church as “just another democratic assembly made up of majorities and minorities.”

The remark echoed the pope’s earlier warnings about the German Catholic Church’s “synodal path,” a series of talks among bishops and laypeople launched this year in response to the abuse crisis. The German initiative aims to rethink church teaching and practice in areas including homosexuality, priestly celibacy and the ordination of women.

On Monday, the pope also sounded one his frequent themes when he warned against the evil of “idle chatter, which traps us in an unpleasant, sad and stifling state of self-absorption. It turns crisis into conflict.”

Write to Francis X. Rocca at francis.rocca@wsj.com

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