Pope Francis Gives Slight Hope to Priest Abuse Victims

Victims hope Franci's Jesuit training and care for downtrodden will end abuse.

BySusan Donaldson James
March 14, 2013, 1:59 PM

March 15, 2013— -- Mark Crawford was 11 when his parish priest began to sexually molest him. It continued for more than six years, and when he finally reported the man to his New Jersey bishop, his abuser was promoted to personal secretary for the diocese's archbishop.

"I was violently abused," said Crawford, now 51 and a supervisor for a major American airline. "He embraced himself into our family life and became more and more controlling and possessive about me. And when I began to withdraw at 12 or 13, he physically beat me and kept me very isolated from people. I became withdrawn and quite. It was a real struggle."

Crawford said his brother was also a victim of sex abuse.

Survivors like Crawford say they hold only a faint hope that the new Argentine pope -- given his humble lifestyle and passion for the poor -- will bring a new accountability to pedophile priests.

Much of the criticism of the church's handling of the sex scandals has been that offending priests were simply moved to other parishes or dioceses by bishops eager to protect the church.

"I don't know. It remains to be seen," said Crawford, a member of SNAP, the largest organization to fight institutional abuse. "That is my sincere hope. There might be some cause to be hopeful, but many [in the church] are part of the old school of thought."

"Certainly, Francis is a man who loved to teach and was meek and understanding of the plight of the downtrodden and the marginalized in our society," he said. "That's why I have this one glimmer of hopeful expectation. But he has to be assertive and aggressive."

Peter Isely, another survivor of priest abuse and the Midwest director of SNAP invoked St. Francis of Assisi, from whom the new pope has taken his name.

"St. Francis was the greatest reformer in the history of the church. Pope Francis must do the same," Isely said. "Pope Francis must, as his very first act, decree the zero tolerance of sexual abuse of children by priests."

David Clohessy, national director of Chicago-based SNAP, said he has no doubt that Pope Francis will be a "kindly shepherd" of his Catholic flock.

"But what we need just as much is a tough administrator who'll crack some skulls, shake things up and end -- once and for all -- the reckless, callous and deceitful coverup of heinous crimes against kids," said Clohessy, who was abused by a priest as an altar boy.

Crawford sees hope in the fact that Pope Francis is a Jesuit, the first in papal history, rather than coming from the ranks of diocesan priests and bishops where so much of the abuse occurred.

"They tend to be more educated and a little more open-minded and progressive," he said.

Mary Frawley O'Dea, a North Carolina psychologist who counsels sex abuse victims and spoke to the 2002 conference of Catholic bishops about mandating a new zero tolerance policy, told ABCNews.com, "So far, I am cautiously optimistic."

"It's a lot like the Supreme Court -- you think you get one thing, but you get something else... But from initial reviews, he looks like an empathic person," O'Dea said. "He's going to get an earful about [Pope Emeritus] Benedict and the Vatican Curia and if he can clean house it will certainly be a new day for the church."

An international arm of Catholic Organizations for Renewal (COR) is calling for a truth and reconciliation commission on the sex abuse scandal and has begun a petition on change.org.

"In an ideal world, it would be an open and honest look at the structures that continue to perpetuate sexual abuse in the church," said Nicole Sotelo, a spokesman for Call to Action, a U.S. Catholic reform group, and author of "Women Healing From Abuse."

Sotelo echoed the sentiments of other Catholics concerned about the new pope's position.

"He has chosen a name that has not been used by any pope before in history," she said. "Let's hope he is sending a symbol that he is willing to break with tradition and do something new. ... and be the pope who listens to the concerns of Catholics around the globe and lives out the heart of the gospel message, which is justice."

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