BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (ChurchMilitant.com) - Though pledging "zero tolerance" for predator priests, Pope Francis' actual record on clerical sex abuse is marked by silence and inaction.
Before taking power in Rome, Cdl. Jorge Mario Bergoglio served as archbishop of Buenos Aires from 1998–2013 (and as president of the Episcopal Conference of Argentina from 2005–2011). In that decade and a half, he said nothing about the clerical sex abuse crisis in his country.
Cardinal Bergoglio "released no documents, no names of accused priests, no tallies of accused priests, no policy for handling abuse, not even an apology to victims," reports watchdog group Bishop Accountability. "In his many homilies and statements (archived on the Buenos Aires archdiocesan website), he attacked government corruption, wealth inequities, and human sex trafficking, but he said nothing about sexual violence by priests."
In fact, Bergoglio even seemed to suggest clerical sex abuse was not problem in Buenos Aires.
"In my diocese it never happened to me," he remarked in a 2010 interview with Argentine rabbi Abraham Skorka, "but a bishop called me once by phone to ask me what to do in a situation like this and I told him to take away the priest's faculties, not to permit him to exercise his priestly ministry again, and to initiate a canonical trial."
Bergoglio's claim — that "in my diocese it never happened to me" — was false. Nine years earlier, an archdiocesan priest under the cardinal's direct supervision was publicly accused of assault.
In May 2001, Fr. Carlos María Gauna was accused of groping two girls, ages 12 and 13, at Instituto Monseñor Stillo, a co-ed school under his charge in the Buenos Aires district of Flores. After the victims reported the abuse, various other female classmates stepped forward with their own accounts of abuse, saying Fr. Gauna had been "unholy" toward them.
The school's academic director told concerned parents he would speak with Gauna, but warned them not to discuss the complaints with others for fear of spreading "rumors" and "gossip." The next day, the parents of the first two girls notified law enforcement, forcing the issue into the open.
In a televised statement, a Buenos Aires archdiocesan spokesman said Church officials were shocked by the allegations.
"This individual has many years of priesthood and never was there a complaint," he said, adding, "The parents can rest assured that we are investigating what happened."
The school was soon swarmed by local media, which recorded the divergent reactions of school administrators and students.
One unnamed teacher insisted that "within the school, nothing happened."
Javier Chiaparo, director of primary education, also dismissed the accusations.
"All there is, is the complaint of some parents. Nothing more," he said.
But pupils offered a different perspective.
"This was a long time coming because this bum behaves inappropriately," said one female student.
"Whenever he saw you he reached out his hand or gave you a kiss here," said another, pointing to the corner of her mouth.
"The priest likes to play 'wandering hand,' particularly with the elementary school girls," said yet another. "He tells the girls, 'Be careful, here comes the wandering hand,' and pats them on the butt, and, in passing, he fondles them."
Local media also reported: "The priest's situation will be resolved by the archbishop of Buenos Aires, Monsignor Jorge Bergoglio, who arrived yesterday from Rome, where he participated in a meeting of the College of Cardinals."
But, as Bishop Accountability notes, "It appears that Bergoglio kept Gauna in ministry."
According to the Buenos Aires archdiocesan website, the priest has served in various capacities since 2002; he is currently listed as parochial vicar of Corpus Domini.
"In my diocese it never happened to me," Cdl. Bergoglio claimed in 2010. Eight years later, Catholics know differently.