Pope Francis taking on clergy sexual abuse

Some victims advocates say pope's actions don't match words

Published On: Apr 09 2013 05:53:58 PM EDT   Updated On: Apr 05 2013 08:54:43 PM EDT
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

He hasn't been pope for a month yet, but Pope Francis is already taking on an issue that has shaken the Catholic Church: sexual abuse.

For decades, the church has faced allegations of priests sexually abusing minors.

On Friday, Pope Francis told senior Vatican officials he was ready to "act decisively with regard to cases of sexual abuse, first of all by promoting measures for the protection of minors, as well as in offering assistance to those who have suffered abuse, carrying out due proceedings against the guilty."

"I think that's the kind of pope he's going to be," Richard Conant said. "He's not going to waste any time and he's going to stand up for what's right. And it's good. It's fantastic."

"I think it sends a message that he cares," Brian Shields said.

Shields said he doesn't believe there is a quick fix, but he's glad the pope is letting the church know his plan. Francis discussed protecting minors, helping victims of sexual violence, and taking necessary action against perpetrators. He also stressed the importance of developing and implementing directives by bishops' conferences around the world.

"He's the pope, so how much can he do to rely on his bishops to make sure they follow through in their areas?" Shields said. "That's how it has to be."

This is the first time Pope Francis addressed clergy sex abuse and is one of his first actions on a major issue.

Some advocates for clergy sex abuse victims say the pope's words aren't enough. Those at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Jacksonville say they want to see the pope's actions.

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, says the pope's actions don't match his words.

"On the one hand, he's saying that this needs to be cleaned up, that we need to deal with it," said Barbara Dorris, SNAP outreach director. "But on the other hand, one of the first moves he made as pope was to meet with disgraced Cardinal Barnard Law from Boston."

The group says Pope Francis has to discipline other clergy members tied to sex abuse to send a clear and serious message.

"Until he sends the message that if you protect, enable and shield predators, you will be disciplined both decisively and publicly," Dorris said. "There's no incentive for those men to change their behavior."

The group SNAP also says the pope can turn over church documents on sex abuse to law enforcement and sit down with lawmakers to come up with ways to make coming forward and reporting crimes easier.