sexual abuse scandal Pope Francis to resign rifts in the Vatican

Pressure is mounting on Pope Francis to resign after a grand jury report in Pennsylvania found that possibly more than 1,000 children in six dioceses had been sexually abused by about 300 priests or higher ranking officials.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a group that describes itself as agnostics and atheists (including former Catholics) are running a full-page ad later this week in The New York Times urging people to leave the Church.

Francis defended a bishop in his home country who was accused by victims of knowing about and ignoring abuse they suffered.

Then, he did an about-face, practically forcing Chilean bishops to resign for their “grave defects” in handling the abuse reports.

Furthermore, Francis accused them of destroying evidence, obstructing justice and putting children in harm’s way around pedophiles.

On top of that, the report said that bishops and other top church officials had tried to contain the public outcry and liability by covering up the crimes, which Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro claimed “went all the way to the Vatican.”

But the report, and the Vatican’s subsequent tepid response, has exposed a split within the Holy See which threatens to bring down Pope Francis just five years after he replaced Pope Benedict XVI.

Several days after the news broke and dominated U.S. headlines, the Vatican released a statement.

Using uncharacteristically strong language for the Vatican, even on such serious issues as child abuse, the Holy See spokesman said to victims that “the pope is on their side.”

Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said the incidents of abuse graphically documented in the grand jury report were “betrayals of trust that robbed survivors of their dignity and their faith.”

“The church must learn hard lessons from its past, and there should be accountability for both abusers and those who permitted abuse to occur,” he said.

But for many Catholics and long-time Vatican observers, the acknowledgment of the criminal behavior was too little, too late.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a group that describes itself as agnostics and atheists (including former Catholics) are running a full-page ad later this week in The New York Times urging people to leave the Church.

“Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all,” the ad says. “Six dioceses, three hundred predatory priests, a staggering 1,000-plus victims.

“No bishops indicted. The pope’s response? All words, no action — except, insultingly, to call on the faithful to ‘pray and fast.”

The advert in the Times comes after Francis was taken to task on Sunday by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the former Vatican ambassador to the U.S.

In a damning 11-page letter released to ultra-conservative media in Europe, during the pope’s trip to Ireland over the weekend, Vigano accused the pontiff of being among Church hierarchy who knew – and did little or nothing towards disciplining – about rumored sexual indiscretions by ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

In fact, Vigano asserted, McCarrick was rehabilitated from sanctions imposed by Pope Benedict XVI, promoted and made part of high-profile Vatican events even as rumors about him swirled.

The timing of Vigano’s accusations have been seen by the progressive pope’s supporters as a deliberate attempt by more conservative factions to undermine his tenure, which has seen him reach out to homosexuals and divorce parishioners.

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