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Asia's Catholics back pope over sex abuse scandal

Many believe the church has a serious problem that must be eradicated but most say the pontiff should not resign
Asia's Catholics back pope over sex abuse scandal

Pope Francis waves to faithful in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican for his weekly general audience on Sept. 5. Most Catholics interviewed by ucanews.com believe the pope should not resign after being accused of covering up clerical sexual abuse. (Photo by Vincenzo Pinto/AFP)

Published: November 02, 2023 10:09 AM GMT

Church leaders in Asia believe Pope Francis should not resign over allegations that he covered up the sexual abuse of youths and seminarians.

Some have questioned the motives of Vatican whistleblower Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, who caused uproar on Aug. 22 when he published an 11-page letter entitled "Testimony." Others doubt the accuracy of his account.

But many Asian Catholics believe the church has a serious problem with sexual abuse that must be tackled head on.

Archbishop Vigano, 77, served as apostolic nuncio to the United States from 2011-16. He claims that many bishops, including Pope Francis, covered up homosexual abuse, particularly the abuse allegedly carried out by Cardinal (now Archbishop) Theodore McCarrick.

Archbishop Vigano states in his letter that because Pope Francis has imposed a "zero tolerance" policy for clergy who engage in sexual abuse or cover it up, the pontiff and those who protected Archbishop McCarrick must resign. 

"In this extremely dramatic moment for the universal church, he [Pope Francis] must acknowledge his mistakes and, in keeping with the proclaimed principle of zero tolerance, Pope Francis must be the first to set a good example for cardinals and bishops who covered up McCarrick's abuses and resign along with all of them," states Archbishop Vigano.

He said he supports a formal investigation of the scandal and any corrective action that may be necessary.

However, many senior Catholic figures in Asia have told ucanews.com that they believe Pope Francis is committed to stamping out clerical sex abuse and should not have to resign.

Archbishop Felix Toppo of Ranchi in India summed up the feelings of many when he said: "There is absolutely no need for the pope to step down. Even if he steps down, there will be another pope who can be accused of the same charges and there will be no end to it."

Here is what Catholics across Asia had to say on the church's burning issue:



Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal

"It is a wrong move to ask Pope Francis to step down. The issue of sex abuse is 50-70 years old and we do not know exactly what happened. Many people are suing the church now purely for monetary purposes.

"What do we know about morality some 70 years back? In my childhood beating a child or maybe patting or showing affection never used to be a crime, but not now. Condemning the church and the pope for all that is wrong is not the solution.

"It is the duty of everyone in the church to be purified and discharge their respective roles positively to tide over the current crisis emanating from the possible excesses believed to have taken place at the hands of clergy.

"The pope is going around and apologizing to people for the alleged abuses and trying his level best to put things right. The call for his resignation does not make any sense other than trying to complicate things."

Archbishop Felix Toppo of Ranchi

"There is absolutely no need for the pope to step down. Even if he steps down, there will be another pope who can be accused of the same charges and there will be no end to it.

"Pope Francis is doing everything under his command to uphold the values propagated by Jesus Christ and even seeking pardon from people for the past alleged mistakes of clergy.

"He has not committed any offense but still he has taken responsibility as the head of the Catholic Church and is trying his best to wipe the tears of those who claim to have suffered from past mistakes.

"Everyone should extend their support to Pope Francis to continue his good work rather than trying to put spanners in what he does for the good of humanity."

Bishop Chacko Thottumarickal of Indore

"Pope Francis is very serious about these issues and a call for his resignation does not merit any consideration.

"It is also natural that when you act tough on issues of this nature, these allegations are bound to come up. We all should work together to establish the Kingdom of God under the leadership of the pope for the betterment of everyone."

Catholics light candles as they offer prayers during the observance of Ash Wednesday at a church in Manila. (Photo by Ted Aljibe/AFP)



Archbishop Romulo Valles of Davao

"The case has brought more painful questions that obviously need urgent answers that will show us the truth.

"The present painful situation is a good occasion for us bishops to review the guidelines that we have for the protection of minors and vulnerable adults, and with renewed resolve and commitment to implement them and not cover them up."

Editorial of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines' news site

"The culture of cover-up and the customary hiding of sexual and, worse, monetary abuses of clerics under the rug are not only true in the U.S. They may also be true in other countries.

"The mentality to kill the story before a scandal escalates, instead of confronting the abuser or punishing the predator, is common even among church leaders. In many circles, the scandal seems to be a bigger concern than the pitiable suffering of abuse victims."

Ricardo Saludo, journalist

"Let's put to rest the argument espoused by liberal, largely unbelieving Western media that Catholicism is continuing its decline toward eventual demise.

"The church has gone through even worse periods of threat and challenges, right from its inception, with the crucifixion of its founder, then the bloody persecution of his earliest disciples by the globally powerful Roman Empire.

"The saga of Catholicism is still unfolding, with our Lord in command, and His Immaculate Mother showing the way ahead."

Dr. Gabriel Dy-Liacco, member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors

"People need to exercise prudence and caution in reading the alleged exposé rather than jump to conclusions as the exposé has many questionable statements."



Justina Rostiawati, president of the Indonesian Catholic Women's Association

"Archbishop Vigano's strong statement shows political turmoil inside the Vatican. Indeed, there are many people who disagree with Pope Francis, but I hope that he will not resign.

"Sexual violence committed by officials, including the church hierarchy, is abuse of power. The church hierarchy is a group of people who have power and certain charisma whom children and women don't dare to reject.

"I appreciate current developments in the church regarding the handling of sexual violence. It is becoming more open, thus there will be more adequate and fair treatment for victims.

"Pope Francis has an extraordinary commitment to uphold justice for victims, fulfilling the principle of humanity. For me this is an extraordinary reform within the church. Unfortunately, any form of transformation will encounter a tough challenge."

Divine Word Father John Mansford Prior, missiology lecturer at St. Paul Major Seminary of Ledalero

"It is true that Pope Francis was slow to take care of the sex scandal. He should act in a more transparent and assertive manner against bishops who cover up cases. Behind this scandal, there is clericalism and hierarchialism. In his sermon, Pope Francis has talked about these two things, but his actions were not satisfactory.

"He should have taken the advice of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors that was delivered two years ago, namely to establish an independent body in the Vatican Curia to take care of all cases, including bishops. I also agree that abuse and covering up by bishops must be seriously acted on according to civil law.

"We must pray that the pope is more courageous. I understand that he does not want his papal period to focus on these scandals.

"When Pope Francis met Vigano in Washington [in October 2015], there were also two Vatican spokesmen, Father Federico Lombardi and Father Thomas Rosica. They both conveyed the contents of the meeting. What is clear is that Pope Francis was not told about McCarrick by Vigano. In early 2018, Pope Francis was notified of McCarrick's sexual abuse, which led to his dismissal.

"Why did Vigano write or sign documents that accuse the pope and so many other bishops? The reason is clear. We know that Pope Benedict XVI was facing a massive financial scandal at the Vatican Curia. The examination results filled three thick volumes. He withdrew and Francis was chosen from outside Europe and from the Jesuits to reform the Vatican Curia, which had jumped from one financial scandal to the next scandal under Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI. And since the starting point of Francis' pontificate, elements in the Vatican Curia have fought it — initially secretly but now openly."

Franciscan Father Peter Aman, moral theology professor at Driyarkara School of Philosophy

"Sexual abuse cases are indeed a disgrace to the church. This is very worrying and must be stopped. We are grateful that in recent years the church has endeavored to open this disgrace and apologize to victims. Pope Benedict XVI even met and heard victims' stories on several occasions.

"Pope Francis has continued the church's policy of condemning the crime of abuse and apologizing to victims.

"The perpetrators have so far been dealt with decisively, have been suspended and are asked to be personally responsible if there are lawsuits. In cases of criminal charges, it is certainly not the pope who decides on legal action. The pope acts within the limits of his authority.

"For me, it is surprising that Vigano criticized the pope. If he was in line with the pope's policy, he should have supported it, not the other way around. His motive in attacking the pope is questionable."

Pope Francis is greeted as he arrives at the Church of the Holy Rosary complex in Dhaka on Dec. 2, 2017. (Photo by Noah Seelam/AFP)



Dr. Benedict Alo D'Rozario, former executive director of Caritas Bangladesh

"I believe Pope Francis is very enthusiastic about reforms in the church. It is expected that he must face resistance from various quarters. However, he has a strong personality to overcome difficulties and to move forward. On his way forward he takes pause, reviews his steps and then takes the right decisions.

"The Vatican system does not entail punitive action against someone bringing allegations against the pope. This approach is necessary to determine who is innocent and who is guilty, and the guilty deserve punishment.

"For instance, we have seen the pope was unaware about wrongdoings by church officials in the U.S. and Chile. Later he understood the problems and identified those responsible, and he forced them to resign. Pope Francis needs our prayers, support and cooperation so that he can carry out his responsibilities well. The way he is moving forward is all right, but people expect him to move faster.

"There are political moves and benefits everywhere. The pope is a liberal and his motto is to save the soul from sins and sufferings. However, not everyone likes his leadership style and policies. There is no reason to get panicked because there were problems in every pontificate. However, the truth must be revealed as soon as possible to dispel confusion among the people.

"I believe Pope Francis himself is good news for the church because his love and concern for poor, marginalized communities and those on the peripheries of the church are genuine. He is in favor of exploited people, who are the majority and they would always support him."

Father Anthony Sen, convener, Justice and Peace Commission, Dinajpur

"This is really shocking. How can an archbishop demand the resignation of a pope? He might be emotionally driven or frustrated. If he was concerned about democratic rights, he could have expressed his concerns in any of the pope's departments or in his audience instead of through the media. His words and actions are confusing for the faithful. The archbishop should have thought more before making a public statement.

"The allegations against Pope Francis are utterly baseless and unacceptable. The pope is serious about the issue and he has publicly spoken about it time after time. He has taken action whenever allegations surfaced and he has apologized to people for the abuses.

"Pope Francis is not a person who would tolerate anything unethical in the church and his actions are logical and acceptable. His decisions are bringing positive changes for the church."

Rita Roselin Costa, Catholic women's activist and social development worker

"Pope Francis is a man of conscience and his decisions for the church are the fruits of his longtime thoughts and plans. He is always in favor of the oppressed. The archbishop should have thought many times before going public with allegations against the pope.

"He sought the resignation of Pope Francis, which is absurd. What good could the church achieve from the pope's resignation? We need to focus more on how to bring justice for the abused and how to stop abuse.

"I think the archbishop, whether he acted alone or in a group, has problems with his mindset. The pope is a liberal and reformist, and he is trying to change the church in line with the times. I think he is right in his decisions and actions. The world is becoming increasingly secular and people are getting detached from religions. The church needs to be liberal to tackle secularization. A conservative mindset would be destructive for the church."



John, a Catholic in Sabah, Borneo

"He has already apologized on behalf of the church. What more do they want? Why should he resign? He shouldn't resign. For what? This is not right … to try push him out. Even if he does resign, then what? What can the next pope do?

"Priests are trained for eight, nine years. After so many years of training, a person's character is manifested. If the character of a man cannot be seen after so many years, then there is something wrong with the training and selection.

"There is no use talking about the shortage of priests as we do here in Malaysia. Selection must be strict. It's got nothing to do with the pope. The Bible is my guide … our guide. I will keep the faith."

An office worker in Kuala Lumpur

"I don't think the pope should resign. It's because of him that some of these realities are exposed. We should all beg for forgiveness from the victims and survivors. It just pains me so deeply as a Catholic. Let's hope priests will emulate the example of Pope Francis."

Julia of the Catholic Women's League

"He's a good man. It's not his fault. He is the one who has helped set the church on a new path. He has been brave. People who are attacking him should not be throwing stones. They should be concentrating on their faith and the Bible. I will pray for him and all of us."

A file image of a choir of an underground church singing at a Christmas Eve service in 2014 at an apartment in Beijing. (Photo by Greg Baker/AFP)



Father Otfried Chan, secretary-general of the Chinese Regional Bishops' Conference

"Bishops and priests have vowed to obey the pope and should not openly confront him, plus the matter has not yet been revealed. The prelates cannot forget that our mission is to save the soul, which is a spiritual task.

"In the unlikely event that the pope is wrong, bishops and brethren can and should be persuaded to help him take responsibility so that he can make the right decision instead of publicly accusing him in the media.

"They have no right to ask the pope to resign. All church members should pray for the pope and the church, which is being tested. The issues of civil law should be investigated and dealt with by national governments.

"It is reported that Archbishop Vigano was agitated by an Italian journalist to make such a statement publicly. We also need to pray for him so that he can resume communion with the pope as soon as possible and continue to serve the church.

"The pope has not made any official statement or response to the accusation of the archbishop. We can see the heights and wisdom of the pope in handling the incident, by which we at least learn to understand."

Hong Kong Catholic John Chan

"The faithful are dissatisfied with not only the sins of an individual priest but also many bishops, cardinals and the Holy See who connived and deliberately concealed the sins and promoted those priests who sinned together.

"Pope Francis has not solved the problem but only treats it with silence. Our church is a sinner's church; it accepts sinners. However, the church is also holy because the church's goal is to help people sanctify. But in the current situation do the bishops and the pope help people to be sanctified?"

A Catholic in Gansu province

"Since there is zero tolerance, the concealer should also resign. The pope is not subject to any civil court judgment, nor can he be forced to resign. But if it is proved that the pope deliberately covered up, he should resign. However, he seems to have no intention to resign."

Joseph, a Catholic in Hebei province

"The letter sent by the archbishop is a kind of infighting. If the pope is ousted, they will have the opportunity to change to their own person to be the pope and continue to conceal the truth.

"The archbishop really regarded the Holy See as a secular institution. If they really think that the pope's power is from God, he will not force the pope to resign because that only will occur in the secular world."

A Catholic in northwest China

"No matter whether the testimony of the archbishop is true or not, all of us should support Pope Francis to continue his pastoral duties with love unless he cannot complete or live up to the authority of the Lord Jesus to entrust his authority.

"A country's president is elected by the people, who have the right to remove him. That is democratic politics. But the Roman bishop does not belong to the rights of the world, nor is he chosen by the people. The pope is the representative of Christ's life, the servant of the servants before God, and the chosen person of God, so only God has the right to choose a person to become the pope, and only God has the power to exempt the Roman bishop as well."

A file image of a young Hmong mother with her 3-year-old daughter selling souvenir items to visitors at the church square in Sapa in Vietnam's northern mountainous province of Lao Cai. (Photo by Hoang Dinh Nam/AFP)



John Nguyen, a Catholic in Ho Chi Minh City

"I object to Archbishop Vigano's accusation that Pope Francis covered up McCarrick's abuses and the call for the pope to resign.

"Sex abuse among clergy is a great challenge that really shakes the whole Catholic Church. It is great suffering for not only the church in the United States but the universal church.

"I think Pope Francis as the supreme pastor of the church always feels heartbroken when he hears reported sexual abuse by clerics. He quoted St. Paul's words that 'if one member suffers, all suffer together with it' in his letter to the faithful on abuse.

"The church always shows love, solidarity and forgiveness to sinners, who are required to do penance for their sins and change their actions and behavior from their hearts.

"The cause of sex abuse is disloyalty among clerics and the solution is that they must be loyal to their vows and church teaching. Future priests need to be trained in human values and spirituality so that they can establish good and healthy relationships with others, and find out happiness in their consecrated life.

"Pope Francis has been opposed by other people because his solution is different from theirs. If the pope steps down for the accusation that he covered up McCarrick's abuse, church abuse will not be dealt with as his resignation is not the solution to the problem. If he resigns, evil forces will take opportunities to continue to oppose the church."



Father Mariano Soe Naing, director of social communications at the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Myanmar

"I have read some comments that Archbishop Vigano's letter is not credible. I feel very concerned for the Catholic Church as the letter has accused top Vatican officials of a sexual abuse cover-up. But Pope Francis is a trustworthy man with integrity, so I have full trust in him."

Bishop Felix Lian Khen Thang of Kalay

"In my opinion, Pope Francis does not need to resign. We need to continue praying for the pope and for the Catholic Church."

Catholics gather for the annual pilgrimage at St. Anthony's Church on Katchchativu Island near Jaffna. (Photo by Ishara Kodikara/AFP)



Sisters of Charity nun and feminist activist Sister Noel Christine Fernando

"Pope Francis is the first pope to wash the feet of a woman on Maundy Thursday. He has shown that he is on the side of the oppressed or victimized women. I have spoken with him about this issue in a personal encounter.

"The church itself is not a holy one but is full of sinners. It is true there are reported incidents of pedophilia and sex abuse related to the clergy in Sri Lanka.

"When I addressed nuns at a program in America, I discovered that 75 percent of the participants were victims of sex abuse by clergy. But I firmly believe that despite all the challenges Pope Francis will take the right decisions."

Nalin Rajendran, a lay leader of Catholic renewal movement Pubuduwa

"The truth needs to come out about clergy sexual abuse, but blaming the pope is baseless. The pope is very open-minded and has apologized to rape victims.

"Our cultures and religions do not talk about sexuality publicly and consider it taboo and dirty. But sexual abuse should stop at once. Church abusers benefit from an institutional cover-up. It has led to failures to report sexual abuse or to give an appropriate response to victims."



Father William Grimm, publisher of ucanews.com, Tokyo

"There has been no noticeable response [in Japan] to Archbishop Vigano's call for the pope to resign, largely because people are paying attention to a string of natural disasters. Local media carried brief reports of the archbishop's letter when it came out. It is likely that most Catholics in Japan apart from "professional" Catholics like bishops are unaware of Archbishop Vigano, his letter or his call for the pope's resignation.

"Overall, the situation in Japan is probably that of most of Asia. Catholics have limited or no access to international church news. The internal concerns of the Catholic church in Western countries are generally of little interest to Asian Catholics and of even less to non-Catholics.

"Catholics in Asia will have little say in what ultimately transpires, and so they continue to focus on living their faith in their own contexts. Of course, those contexts often include the abuse of children and women by clergy, but those situations, when viewed at all, are considered local problems without reference to the West or even Rome."



John Choi, a Catholic in Seoul

"In my view, Korean Catholics do not show any attention to this issue. I guess they pretend that they did not hear anything. Clergy sexual abuse is a sensitive issue in the Korean Church and Catholics don't want to talk about it. It seems that the Korean Church is simply covering up Vigano's claim by ignoring it."

This article was first published 7.9.2018.

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