After briefly returning to the headlines in light of horrific revelations coming out of Pennsylvania, the Catholic Church’s child sexual abuse scandal has once again dropped out of the top stories. At least one French priest is trying to change that.
Speaking to the Associated Press, Rev. Pierre Vignon said he’s been targeted and “punished” by church leadership in France for collecting more than 100,000 signatures on a petition calling for the forced resignation of a cardinal who oversaw some of the abuse cases. According to Vignon, he received an email informing him that he’d no longer be allowed to serve as a judge for the church court, a position he’s held for more than 15 years. Vignon said this decision underscores the division in the church regarding how to deal with the ongoing scandal, as well as how it should be handled in public.
“They say, ‘We want to do everything,’” Vignon said, “but to whistleblowers, ‘We want to shut you up.”
This seemingly contradictory messaging has played as a constant undercurrent during a series of scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church across the globe. In many cases, local church leaders have said more could be done and would be done, but those who came forward claimed they were or would be punished for speaking out. Similar allegations even reached all the way to the current pope, forcing Pope Francis to make public statements, not about the scandal in general, but specifically in his own defense.
Meanwhile, Vignon said he has “no regrets” regarding his petition to demand the resignation of Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, who was in charge when allegations surfaced of a “pedophile priest” under Barbarin’s authority, allegedly abusing Boy Scouts in the 1980s. Pope Francis has publicly praised Barbarin, calling him “brave” even as Vignon continues his efforts to see the cardinal removed from power. He said the pope’s support of Barbarin “changes nothing” and that he will continue to fight, despite what he sees as punishment for speaking out.
From a public relations perspective, this clash reflects the current public divide surrounding how the Church is handling this ongoing scandal. While, internally, the Church messaging seems to be consistent, there also appears to be a growing number of dissenting clergy who are willing to speak out and demand more action be taken. The public appears to be split along these lines as well. While some believe the Church is doing what’s necessary, many others believe both the actions taken and the messaging offered by local and global church leaders aren’t nearly enough.