Today, Pope Francis had an audience with a globally known figure. It was not Cardinal Burke, one of the four authors of the dubia, who submitted their concerns about the pope’s post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia exactly two years ago today. (Two of those authors, Cardinal Joachim Meisner and Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, did not live to see their request for an audience, let alone an answer from the pope, responded to.)
It was not Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the former papal nuncio to America, whose 11-page report on clerical abuse cover-ups in the Church made public in August pointed a finger directly at the pope himself – a charge the pope has refused to answer, instead saying he is “not going to say a word about this” and suggesting that journalists should draw their own conclusions as a character-building exercise.
It was also not any victim of abuse, nor any member of the international or Catholic media hoping to get answers to questions on what the pope knew about the alleged cover-ups and why he refuses to answer.
Instead, the man the pope received, with cameras rolling, was Paul Hewson – better known as Bono, the lead singer of the Irish mega-pop band U2. Bono prominently advocated legalized abortion in Ireland earlier this year, to the dismay of legions of pro-life fans, in advance of the formerly Catholic nation’s successful repeal of constitutional protection for the unborn.
Bono, who met with the pope to discuss such topics as “the wild beast that is capitalism,” told journalists today that the pope is “aghast” about sex abuse in the Church. “You can see the pain in his face,” Bono said. “And I felt he was sincere.”
Others take a different view.
“He receives all the celebrities, like Leonardo DiCaprio, and opens his door to them,” said one Argentine victim of clerical abuse in the pope’s former diocese in Argentina, in comments made long before today’s papal audience with an A-list rock star. “And for us, not even a quick letter to say he was sorry.”
Like Bono, Pope Francis wasn’t always world-famous, and he was formerly known under a different name: Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the cardinal-archbishop of Buenos Aires. But allegations of neglect and cover-up both past and present are catching up to the “people’s pope,” as evidenced by a group of victims featured in the 2017 Spanish-language documentary Sex Abuse in the Church: Code of Silence. Subtitled clips of the film have begun circulating on the internet in the wake of revelations of abuse about McCarrick and the pope’s alleged complicity in hiding it, all while returning the favor for McCarrick’s support of his election by rehabilitating the American cardinal’s career.
One of the most famous cases of clerical abuse in Argentina is that of Fr. Julio Grassi, a so-called “celebrity priest” who was in charge of homes for street children in Argentina and was sentenced in 2009 to fifteen years in prison for the sexual corruption of a minor. A story by the Associated Press (AP) earlier this week has brought new light to this case – and Bergoglio’s alleged involvement in it – and has taken it from the archives of the Argentine justice system and placed it before an international audience. (Read the full AP report here.)
The victim, known only as Gabriel, was 13 years old at the time of the abuse and testified that “on two separate occasions in 1996 the priest once fondled him, and then performed oral sex on him in his office.” Two other children from Grassi’s homes also made allegations, but these were thrown out during the initial trial.
Although Francis was not Grassi’s bishop, the AP reports that he was quoted in 2006 by a magazine saying that the accusations Grassi faced were “informative viciousness against him, a condemnation by the media.”
In 2010, while Bergoglio was president of the Argentine Episcopal Conference, the conference hired a “leading Argentine criminal defense attorney” named Marcelo Sancinetti. His mission, according to the AP, was to “research a counter-inquiry into the prosecutor’s case against Gabriel” and the two other alleged victims whose cases were tossed in the 2009 trial. The counter-inquiry, which totaled four volumes and over 2,000 pages, in which Sancinetti concluded that “the falsity of each one of the accusations” against Grassi was “objectively verifiable.” Nevertheless, and even after the inquiry – alleged to have been for internal use for the Argentine bishops – wound up in the possession of certain judges considering Grassi’s appeals, in 2017, the Supreme Court of Argentina showed that it was unmoved by Sancinetti’s analysis, upholding Grassi’s conviction.
Later, Grassi testified that Bergoglio “had never let go of my hand” during the entire ordeal. He remains a priest to this day.
The victim felt no such paternal protection from Bergoglio. According to the AP, at one point, Gabriel had to be put into a witness protection program after his home was broken into and after receiving “physical attacks and threats.”
Gabriel also worked with his attorney to bring a letter to the Argentine cardinal-archbishop-turned-pope, shortly after his election in 2013. In it, he identified himself as the victim of “aberrant crimes of repeated sexual abuse and corruption,” according to the AP, and complained that details of his abuse, which should have been under the secrecy of the court, were publicly revealed, further denigrating him and causing additional suffering.
Gabriel and his attorney brought the letter to the Vatican embassy in Buenos Aires, accompanied by a request for a papal audience. Rather than being received with compassion, Gabriel’s attorney alleges that they were “threatened at the embassy and don’t know what became of the letter.”
Unlike Bono, Gabriel was never granted an audience.