The Vatican has continued to receive a high number of reports of sexual abuse by clerics during Pope Francis’s papacy, according to a new book that also reexamines allegations against several of the pontiff’s top advisers involving coverups or worse.
The book by Italian journalist Emiliano Fittipaldi — an advance copy of which was provided to The Washington Post, and which is to be published Thursday — argues that little has changed in the way the church handles sexual abuse cases despite Francis’s creation of a special commission for the protection of minors and a declaration of “zero tolerance” of abuse.
The church “is still afraid of the taboo,” Fittipaldi said in an interview.
Francis has been credited by some with taking more decisive action on abuse cases than his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, did. Francis has set down a process for removing bishops for negligence in the handling of abuse cases and ordered the trial before a church tribunal of a Vatican ambassador to the Dominican Republic after accusations of sexual abuse surfaced. But Francis also has promoted officials who have been tainted by accusations of abuse or coverups, and the Vatican has been accused of still not doing enough.
Even as it states that the flow of abuse reports has not slackened, the book, titled “Lust,” contains few revelations about new cases. Rather, it reexamines church responses to allegations that have mostly been previously aired, occasionally adding fresh details.
Fittipaldi’s work has dogged the church before. Last year, he was tried in a Vatican court on charges of illegally publishing internal documents in a 2015 book, titled “Greed,” on Pope Francis’s crusade to clean up Vatican corruption and excess. The charges were dismissed on the grounds that Fittipaldi is not a church official and the court therefore had no jurisdiction.
The Vatican declined to comment on the details of the new book, which recounts several long-standing allegations against several members of Francis’s Council of Cardinal Advisers, a group of nine senior officials who have the pope’s ear.
Australian authorities, for instance, have been probing Cardinal George Pell, the top financial adviser to the pope, on multiple allegations of sexual abuse. Pell has strongly denied the charges. Fittipaldi claims to have unearthed documents showing Pell also sought to financially aid priests who had been jailed on pedophilia charges.
Pell denied the accounts in Fittipaldi’s book, calling them “smears.”
“The work is not just a particularly shoddy and dated piece of journalism, which merely restates false allegations against the Cardinal in a blatant attempt to blacken his name and reputation, it is simply erroneous on many accounts,” according to a statement issued by Pell’s office.
The book also notes that Francis elevated Cardinal Francisco Javier Errázuriz, the former archbishop of Santiago, Chile, to a position on his council despite documents showing Errázuriz long ignored sex abuse claims against a priest under his jurisdiction.
Since becoming pope in 2013, Francis has promised more transparency and accountability in sexual assault accusations linked to clerics, a subject that has plagued the church for years. In a small number of cases, Francis has intervened by directly contacting victims and instructing local bishops to take the charges seriously.
But Francis, Fittipaldi argues, has not necessarily held accountable bishops who have obstructed cases. He cites, for instance, the case of a former altar boy in the Spanish city of Granada who was personally called by the pope after coming forward with allegations that he was abused by 10 priests.
A letter from the victim’s father published in the book says the archbishop of Granada, Francisco Javier Martínez Fernández, did not encourage his son to press charges and for a time withheld information from investigating authorities. However, the Vatican did not sanction Martínez.
Citing Vatican documents, the book also states that roughly 1,200 sexual abuse cases were filed with the Holy See during Francis’s first three years in office — suggesting a pace similar to that in the last two years of Benedict’s papacy.
In one notable case, the book says, an Italian priest defrocked in 2012 after being accused of sexually abusing several minors was reinstated to the priesthood in 2014 with the authorization of Francis, though only to live out “a life of prayer and humble discretion as a sign of conversion and repentance.”