March 20, 2013 - 11:29 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - A Roman Catholic activist group said that Pope Francis was slow as head of the Argentine church to act against sexual abuse by clergy and urged him to apologize for what it called church protection for two priests later convicted of sexually assaulting children, AP reported.
A lawyer for some of the victims, meanwhile, said the future pope, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, had not met with or helped victims, and charged that mid-level church officials who covered up the problem haven't lost their jobs.
The Buenos Aires archbishop's office didn't immediately comment on the complaints, which came as Francis was being installed as pope in a Vatican ceremony seen around the world.
The U.S.-based Bishop Accountability group cited the cases of two priests: Father Julio Cesar Grassi, who ran the "Happy Children" foundation and was convicted of pedophilia in 2008, and Father Napoleon Sasso, convicted in 2007 of abusing girls at a soup kitchen in suburban Buenos Aires, where he was assigned after being accused of pedophilia elsewhere.
Grassi is currently free pending appeal, thanks partly to a court filing on his behalf by the Argentine church, which was headed by Bergoglio as archbishop of Buenos Aires. Bergoglio oversaw Argentina's bishops conference when Sasso was assigned to the soup kitchen at a chapel, said the victims attorney, Ernesto Moreau.
Bishop Accountability co-director Anne Doyle said those events show Bergoglio was behind the curve in the Catholic Church's global struggle to deal with sex abuse by its priests, which erupted in 2002 after thousands of cases became public in the United States and around the world.
The group said that to send a message of zero tolerance in the church around the world, the new pope should tell the Buenos Aires archdiocese to release the complete files on the Grassi and Sasso cases, publicly identify any other priests who are "credibly accused" of sex abuse and endorse mandatory reporting by church officials to law enforcement of suspected abuse.
No one has presented evidence that Bergoglio was directly involved covering up sex abuse.
The pope's authorized biographer, Sergio Rubin, told the AP 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.
Ramon Luzarraga, an expert on the Catholic Church in Latin America, said justice has come more slowly in Argentina in part because its society has until recently avoided public discussions of sexual humiliation, which was used as a tactic in the "dirty war" waged against leftists by the 1976-83 military dictatorship.
Also, he said, "Argentina's democracy is still comparatively young and people are not as acclimated to being outspoken in the face of injustice."
That leaves clergy abuse victims and their supporters to hold the pope to account on questions of priest abuse everywhere, said Luzarraga, who teaches theology at the University of Dayton in Ohio.