September 28th, 2015

Pope Francis went to prison…

for a visit, that is.

And there he said a curious thing:

…[T]his morning at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility on the outskirts of Philadelphia…the pontiff spoke and met with roughly 75 inmates and their families. Slowly, he moved around the room, stopping to clasp hands and look into each face, murmuring a blessing to those who requested one and wrapping his arms around those who rose for an embrace…

…[A] necessary precondition for a society that locks people away and forgets about them is a comfort with sorting individuals into categories and determining that some are not worth saving. To this idea, Francis offered a stern, unambiguous rebuke: “Jesus … comes to save us from the lie that says no one can change,” he said, before repeating, “the lie that says no one can change.”

But has anyone ever heard anyone utter that particular lie? I haven’t encountered it in all my years listening to people talk about prison and the possibility of rehabilitation. I’ve never heard anyone say no one can change.

The idea that certain people can’t change; now, that I’ve heard. I’ve even heard that it’s hard to tell who can and who can’t change, or that not that many criminals can or do change (which the recidivism figures bear out).

But no one changing? Never heard of it. Of course people can and do change. They get religion. They get older and wiser. They get tired. They meet someone who gives them a reason to live.

Maybe what the Pope actually meant to say got lost in translation, because I don’t get it.

However, it did remind me of something I’ve long thought, which concerns the Catholic Church’s failure to deal with its abusing pedophile priest crisis in a way that adequately protected children. During its height, sometimes—after a short retreat for treatment and/or prayerful contemplation—abusive priests were merely shuffled off to a new venue. This seemed like a coverup, and effectively it was.

I do not have my finger on the pulse of the Church, to say the least. But many years ago it occurred to me that since the Church believes—really, really believes—in the power of prayer and redemption, it would make a certain amount of sense that, if an abusive priest reported that prayer and grace (and psychological treatment) had cured him, the Church would be disinclined to doubt him. I know it’s not the whole story of the Church’s failure to protect children. But I believe it was at least in part this belief in the power of even the worst people to change for the better that led the Church to trust these priests too easily, and to believe not only that it was a lie to say that none of them could ever change, but that it was a lie to say that any of them couldn’t and hadn’t changed.

[NOTE: That’s not an excuse on my part, by the way. It’s merely a tentative, partial explanation.]

[ADDENDUM: I just noticed this article which quotes the Pope’s statements yesterday to survivors of sexual abuse by priests.]

48 Responses to “Pope Francis went to prison…”

  1. Cornhead Says:

    Zero excuse for the sex scandals.

    While the loss of money was huge, the Church’s loss of credibility was even bigger. Former Citicorp CEO Walter Wriston cited it as a major sea change in modern society.

    Pope Francis is trying to restore credibility. But I am so, so disappointed in his blatantly political positions. When the Pope sticks to the Gospel he is great. When he wanders into climate and illegal immirigation he damages his own credibility. Giant mistake and I am shocked a Jesuit would make a mistake like that.

    Super lefty group Bold Nebraska is over the moon about the Pope’s visit. That’s all you need to know about the nature and magnitude of his error.

  2. T Says:


    Just a couple of observations from a born-and-bred Catholic with 12 years of Catholic education.

    Theology and good intent aside, the various dioceses of the Catholic Church (any organized church, really) are corporate entities. As such, they fall under the purvue of my observation that:

    All organizations are corruptible. The larger an organization becomes, the more corruptible it becomes. The more corruptible it becomes, the more corrupted it is.

    The pedophile scandal is, IMO, a clear indication of exactly that; an organization shuffling the deck chairs to save face and cover it’s corporate behind. The similarity with the Clinton e-mail scandals or the IRS scandals (to name only two) are not coincidental, but organizational SOP. I have first-hand knowledge of venal and vengeful diocesan actions including outright lying and intentionally misrepresenting facts; again, in my book, organizational SOP.

    Furthermore, it doesn’t help that the Catholic Church, in particular, (IMO) still see itself as a Renaissance Italian principate; it never really jettisoned the old expectation of the unquestionable acquiescence of its members (divine power, divine law and all that) and organizationally bristles at being challenged by those lesser people commonly called parishoners.

    You note that “. . . the Church believes—really, really believes—in the power of prayer . . . .” The organization might really, really believe in the power of prayer, but in my experience when the rubber hits the road the evidence shows that “prayer is for the little people.”

  3. neo-neocon Says:


    One thing I didn’t go into in the post—in the interests of brevity—was that the Catholic Church priest abuse scandal had stages. The first stages occurred back when our state of knowledge about pedophilia was quite primitive, and during a time when sexual abuse and its extent in general was just coming into the news. I was on a research project at the time and so I remember it rather well.

    Later, the coverup aspects were more prominent. But originally, it was a combination of ignorance and hope that was at least partly to blame.

  4. Ray Says:

    They weren’t pedophiles but homosexuals. Pedophiles are attracted to pre-pubescent children. These priests were attracted to teenage boys.

  5. neo-neocon Says:


    Some abused post-pubescent teens. But some were most definitely attracted to children. Some were attracted to pre-pubescent or barely-pubescent boys. Some abused children of both sexes.

    See this, one of the most notorious cases in New England.

  6. parker Says:

    I have not paid attention to the details of the pope’s tour of Cuba and the USA, so I am curious to learn if he visited a prison in Cuba. Did he ask to visit a Cuban prison and was rebuff, or was he indifferent to the fate of Cuban political prisoners?

  7. T Says:


    You wrote: ” But originally, it was a combination of ignorance . . . .”

    I can understand that. If one has no knowledge that the problem is systemic it doesn’t initially prompt a systemic solution. Note the similarity, though, to the IRS scandals. “Oh! These are just one or two priests” is the same as “Oh, these were just a few rogue employees in Cincinnati.”

    It should always prompt a systematic investigation, though, because certain types of people are drawn to certain professions. Just as a weak person who wants to exercise power might become a cop, or an arsonist might become a firemen, why would a pederast not be attracted to the priesthood? Willy Sutton robbed banks for exactly that reason; he went where the money was. Why would the Church deign to think that it is exempt from this same human behavior?

  8. Lee Says:

    The scandal has NOT been unaddressed, at least in the US. There had been a policy set in place in the US since 2002. Wikipedia had a pretty good description of it, and of the history:

    I want to point out that statistically, the prevalence is estimated to be roughly comparable across ALL clergy, not just among Catholic clergy. It seems high because there are so many more Catholic priests, monks, etc., than Protestant, Jewish, et al. clergy. And statistically, and frighteningly, the prevalence of pedo/hebephilia among clergy (both Catholic and non-Catholic) is LOWER than among the general population.

  9. Lee Says:

    Here is an interesting article on the topic:

  10. AMartel Says:

    Didn’t tour any Cuban prisons. Wonder why are our U.S. prisons such a better backdrop?

    (No, I don’t. Not really.)

    The only time i’ve heard “people don’t change” is on House, it being one of the title character’s dramatically cynical opinions about people. It sounds more like a modern philosophy than something the Church has worried about over time much less something Jesus would fret about. Back in the day, people changed because they HAD to. Now we have the luxury of maintaining consistency and not changing. Seems like an excuse to look forgiving and hopeful (and opportunistically welcome forgiveness and hope for the Church).

    Pedophiles are very difficult to change as they’ve been lying to themselves and everyone else for years. Very, very, very difficult to rehabilitate which is one of the arguments for longer sentences and programs to track them even after prison.

  11. roc scssrs Says:

    This is what Walter Russell Mead had to say about the scandal, and it pretty well sums up my feelings: “Many who follow press coverage in which these scandals are treated as breaking news have missed the point that much of the activity in question took place decades ago, and the pastoral, low key approach of many Catholic bishops to these cases often reflected what many lay psychologists at the time considered best practice. Loyal Catholics who bristle at the unfairness of this coverage have a point.” (From his blog at the time of Benedict’s resignation.) Also, the John Jay study concluded that 80% of the cases were homosexual advances toward teenage boys.

  12. A_Nonny_Mouse Says:

    In regard to the “potential to change” thing combined with the “abusive priests” thing: I’ve always assumed that –way back when nobody talked about such things– many men went into the priesthood believing that “if I dedicate my life to God, He will take away these vile urges I cannot control”.

    Despite their certainty that their “bargain with God” would relieve them of their torment — it didn’t. And even after their misbehavior was discovered, I imagine that most of the (don’t know the Catholic terminology) “supervisory priests” of the time truly believed that with prayer and repentance and meditation and so forth, God WOULD INDEED make them strong enough to resist their temptations. (After all, the notion that “man is weak but God will strengthen the truly repentant who turn to Him for help” is one of the BASIC beliefs of Christianity, right?) So the supervisors would counsel-and-instruct the offender, and let him start over with a clean slate somewhere else.

    It took the Church a long time to understand –if it does, even yet– that priests with deviant sexual attractions, no matter how ashamed and regretful they may be over their behavior, are hardly ever “cured”, despite their sincere faith that God will/ must help them. (How dare God not help “his own”, eh?)

  13. Phil D Says:

    To put some perspective on the scandals. (I’m recycling a comment I made 6 days ago on a Breitbart thread);

    As for the CC (Wiki, John Jay Report: “”

    “The report determined that, during the period from 1950 to 2002, a total of 10,667 individuals had made allegations of child sexual abuse. Of these, the dioceses had been able to identify 6,700 unique accusations against 4,392 clergy over that period in the USA, which is about 4% of all 109,694 ordained clergy i.e. priests or deacons or members of religious orders, active in the USA during the time covered by the study.[2] Roughly 4% of them were accused. However, of these 4392 accused, only 252 (5.7% of those accused or less than 0.1% of total clergy) were convicted. The number of alleged abuses increased in the 1960s, peaked in the 1970s, declined in the 1980s, and by the 1990s had returned to the levels of the 1950s”

    “Increased in the 1960s, peaked in the 1970s”, why it’s almost as if there is a correlation with the “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll” society.

    and to relate that to society in general;

    And to make a comparison to the number of victims in society, as an example for the US (“”)
    “In 1999, an estimated 285,400 children were victims of a sexual assault and 35,000 were victims of some other type of sex offense”
    “An estimated 44 percent of the child victims of sexual assault and other sex offenses experienced an act of sexual penetration. ” …

    And then there are for example the “grooming gangs” in the UK, starting from the beginning of the 1990s until, well, still going on I believe. While the “world” was shocked, but really shocked by the CC scandals after 2002 the gangs would abuse and pimp out children for years and the “shocked world” would remain blind for the tens of thousand victims.

    And of course now there has come to light the official imposed blindness for the particular Pashtun ways (“boys are for fun”). Sometimes I think the West is dying from hypocrisy.

  14. Molly NH Says:

    Currently there is also a *failure* in the media & elites to call the sex abuse *Pederasty*, where an adult male
    grooms & solicits a teenage boy .
    Pederasty would not just apply to offending clergymen
    it could encompass a significant proportion of the homosexual world ! Of course the media & gay rights enthusiasts ignore this slimey behavior, can t have gays in a bad light !

  15. neo-neocon Says:


    The Church’s failure to protect children that I was speaking of refers to the decades when the Church knew about the abuse but swept it under the rug. As far as I know, that era ended some time ago (not sure of the date, but you say 2002, and I’ll accept that until I learn otherwise). But that earlier policy had gone on for a long time during the last part of the 20th century.

  16. Alan F Says:

    Half a century ago, as a teenager, I thought that the Catholic Church was too quick to forgive gangsters who would then support the church and ask for a pass into heaven. Now, after studying enabling practices from a sociologist’s perspective, I see the Pope’s advocacy for helping the unfortunate as enabling people to persist in the behaviors most of us deplore. I lost much respect for Fox News as they gave endless, fawning attention to the Pope’s visit. Their respect for Christian religion caused their failure to report things “. . . as they really are”.

  17. Ymarsakar Says:

    A lot of things seem to be “getting lost in translation”.

  18. Ymarsakar Says:

    Of course the media & gay rights enthusiasts ignore this slimey behavior, can t have gays in a bad light !

    Or else the Gaystapo will be at your doors.

  19. Nick Says:

    If you can stomach clicking on a HuffPo link, here is a transcript of the pope’s remarks:

    In context, I don’t see any problem with his statement. He’s talking about forgiveness. In my experience, the person telling me that I can’t change is almost always me. I’d bet that’s true of prisoners as well.

    The pedophilia crisis was due in part to the Church seeing it solely in a sin/forgiveness framework, rather than a disorder/treatment or crime/punishment framework. All three have their place. (I was going to write more than that, but you know, I’m ok with leaving those sentences on their own.)

  20. Cornhead Says:

    Early reactions by the Church were all tied into the liberalism of the 60s and 70s and the pop psychology of the time. The Church’s leaders, lawyers and insurance companies ignored the fact that crimes were being committed.

    Since I was an altar boy during this era, I’m glad the priests I knew were not criminals. Omaha was largely spared and only one guy went to jail.

  21. Molly NH Says:

    Gaystapo @Yamar, who coined that? it was pretty clever !

  22. neo-neocon Says:


    My problem with the remarks is with the strawman of “the lie that says no one can change.” I’ve never heard anyone in real life espouse that “lie,” either verbally or in print.

  23. Steve57 Says:

    Did no one point out to the pope that he was visiting a correctional facility? That we call our prisons penitentiaries?

    One would think a Catholic priest would be able to grasp the root of that last word; I hear the Pope’s English if very good.

  24. Steve57 Says:

    “…[A] necessary precondition for a society that locks people away and forgets about them…”

    Forgets about them? He was meeting with prisoners and their families. Didn’t he notice all those people in the room?

    I’m more and more convinced Pope Francis made up his mind a long time ago about the US and he won’t let what’s right before his eyes influence his conclusions.

    Same with Cuba.

  25. neo-neocon Says:


    That “forgets about them” remark was from the reporter, not the Pope. Here are the Pope’s remarks, which include the “lie that says no one can change” statement that is the one I focused on.

  26. Mike Says:

    He is correct of course.

    The modern criminal justice system on the punishment is ten times more barbaric than it was just a few centuries ago. We have definitely regressed there and “prison” is a complete failure on every level.

    Like the Geico Ad says, everyone knows this.

    The reason it is a total failure, however, is not something everyone knows. The failure is a religious one. We have exorcised religion and therefore we exorcise the mercy of God and the kindness of strangers. What is left is the mercy of the “jailer” – a government employee who gets paid house animals, and treats them accordingly.

    If you think people are animals merely, you put them in cages for as long as you want. Who cares.

    Francis is right.

    Popes usually are right about such matters.

    Again, everyone knows these obvious things.

  27. Nick Says:

    Neo – If you consider it a reference to self-recrimination, does it go down easier?

    It’s very common to despair of forgiveness, to consider oneself unworthy of it. The Christian message is that we haven’t earned forgiveness, but we’ve been given it (through the sacrifice of Christ) if we ask for it and accept it. That’s got to be tough for a prisoner to accept. A prisoner is defined by his relationship to his misdeeds. A prisoner surrounded by repeat offenders, or being one himself, has got to feel trapped spiritually as well as physically.

    So I’m not saying that a prisoner is told by others that he can’t change (although I’m sure it’s tough to get a job, for example, after serving time). But he does need someone to remind him that God doesn’t consider his actions to be unforgivable.

  28. neo-neocon Says:


    Are you being serous, or are you being sarcastic? I’m not sure.

    But assuming you’re serious, I have a few questions about “more barbaric than a few centuries ago.”

    LIke this in England? Like when stealing and witchcraft were capital crimes? Or when, in the US, arson, rape, robbery, counterfeiting, and horse theft could get the death penalty? (When the death penalty was so commonplace, there’s wasn’t all that much need for prisons.)

    Or how about when debtors routinely languished in prison? Or when solitary confinement was pretty much universal?

  29. neo-neocon Says:


    If the Pope had said “that you can be forgiven,” or “that you can change,” no problem with that. It’s the “no one can change” part of it I found so very odd.

  30. Ann Says:

    About that “the lie that says no one can change”: The pope was perhaps thinking along the lines of the old proverb that says “a leopard can’t change its spots”. I’d wager that’s a sentiment that’s not totally dead.

  31. Molly NH Says:

    “The lie that no one can change”, was Francis trying to bolster the offenders against feeling
    Its a negative emotion with a lot of *woe is me* to it something I think people with *low self esteem* typically indulge in.
    I guess I take his remarks as encouragement to those convicts to change.

  32. blert Says:

    The Argentinian Pope was probably spewing the dogma of his native culture.

    In Buenos Aires, Argentina, the culture pigeon holes everyone based upon their ethnic back round.

    It’s the UN-melting pot.

    It’s a city where the Italians are still the Italians, the Welsh are still the Welsh, and so forth.

    Unlike the US, Argentina never escaped the ‘European’ city-state political-cultural model. Buenos Aires is pretty much the whole story.

    Whereas America, due to its wars, is a nation that has been cross blended. The last war with extensive ethnically pure regiments was the American Civil War. ( Acknowledging that some such formations existed in both WWI and WWII. )

    The Pope, himself, is of pure Italian stock. (IIRC ) It didn’t hurt his chances for elevation.

    Consequently, the Pope sees in America the caricaturisation picked up over a life time of living in a failed society… the crony-capitalist-junta state.

    He hasn’t a CLUE about modern America — and is most unlikely to ever pick one up, either.

  33. Mike Says:

    Neo – I cannot fill in the vast lacunae in your historical knowledge.

    What is better? You can send a criminal on a religious pilgrimage, and make him pay for his crime in the only way it is even possible to pay. Or lock him in a cage where nothing is paid, nothing is redeemed, nothing is learnt but more crime and despair beyond belief?

    Civilized? Today? If you think so you are crazy.

  34. Mike Says:

    @blert: Your bigotry is first rate. Congrats. Did you by chance read anything that Francis said about America after his visit? Did you by chance read anything he said during his visit? He did, for example, take the side of Kim Davis. He did, for example, condemn abortion. He did, for example, talk about religious freedom and the persecution of Christians. He did so very diplomatically, but that only points out the crudeness of Obama and the other Demonic Dems.

    He praised, above all, the value of the intact nuclear family.

    Does he have care for prisoners, the marginalized, the immigrant? Of course. He’s the Pope. He’s never been to America. He got an education while he was here. He is not against learning. It’s what people of his caliber do.

  35. neo-neocon Says:


    So you think public executions of thieves is a better and less barbaric way to go than several years in prison.

    And you think I’m the one with the “vast lacunae” of knowledge.

  36. blert Says:

    Mike Says:
    September 28th, 2015 at 10:06 pm

    @blert: Your bigotry is first rate. Congrats.

    So, Argentina, then, is the flower of democracy and civil order ?

    Heh. Heh. Heh.

  37. Ymarsakar Says:

    Gaystapo @Yamar, who coined that? it was pretty clever !

    Molly, internet memes and propaganda talk is hard to track down. I saw someone using it before and felt it was appropriate for this current climate of totalitarian freaks, so there it goes.

  38. MikeII Says:

    The jury is still out on the current Pope. I have/had a deep respect for Benedict and John Paul II, this current one- Not so much. But perhaps this plant takes longer to bear good fruit. Hence time will tell.

    But it seems like the comments here have gotten a little balkanized monologues instead of good natured dialog.

    So if you have read down this far, you need something to reorient your focus. This was posted on Ace of Spades as just something that is a light hearted prank and I think all the participates also could laugh at themselves and not take themselves too seriously 🙂

    Time For a Laugh —JohnE. Great prank here.

  39. MikeII Says:

    For some reason the link above goes to the end of the video.
    This one starts at the beginning.

  40. Mac Says:

    Neo said: “Later, the coverup aspects were more prominent. But originally, it was a combination of ignorance and hope that was at least partly to blame.”

    That’s a great two-sentence summary of what happened. In the ’60s and ’70s “experts” were telling the bishops that psychotherapy would solve the problem.

  41. expat Says:

    Nick mentioned that Francis seems to see everything in a sin/forgiveness mode rather than a disorder/treatment mode. I think this extends to the way he sees things like poverty too. He doesn’t seem to ask the poor what they might do to better their condition. Rather, the better off who give money (or taxes) without ever coming in contact with a poor person are made to feel good about themselves:

  42. Jim Kearney Says:

    I’m a devout Catholic. And pedophiles know two things. They will have a clear place to hide in any church, to have access to kids to molest and because they can fake a Holy persona that will protect them from accusations. “Fr Joe is always helping these kids. You can see his devotion to them.” And, if caught, they will always have Christian Mercy, perverted, with full forgiveness if they “say” are repentant. Their sinful souls once scarlet are as white as snow.
    Ironically, St. John Bosco who devoted his life to youth prophecied this abuse from a vision, seeing children being ravaged by wolves in sheep clothing while the Shepherds stood by, allowing them to be devoured. He predicted, like many other Saints, the apostasies and perversions that evil would bring to destroy the faith of millions.

  43. Molly NH Says:

    Francis belongs to a mind set that people are born into *stations* in life, if you are poor, you will always be poor, you have no avenue to improve yourself & you can be excused for not even trying because you are well……poor !!!
    Nearly all the cultures of the world support this mindset, this attitude has enshrined the continual political failure that describes South America. It is a *power elite* at the top who do not support upward mobility for their human fellows that might well be just as capable (& more capable then they are) so elites want to force everyone to *require their largesse* & be thankful for it !!!!

  44. Ann Says:

    He doesn’t seem to ask the poor what they might do to better their condition.

    Not sure how that squares with the emphasis Francis places on the dignity of work. From a report on one of his recent weekly general audiences:

    Through work,” said Pope Francis, “the family is cared for and children are provided with a dignified life.”

    “It makes me sad, when I see people without work, who do not find work and haven’t the dignity of bringing bread home – and it cheers me when I see that political leaders make great efforts to find jobs and to seek to make sure that everyone has a job.” The Holy Father went on to say, “Work is sacred, work gives dignity to a family: we must pray that work be not lacking in any family.”

  45. expat Says:

    Still, he is saying that the government has to find jobs for the poor, rather than saying that some may be smart enough to create their own jobs.
    What Francis misses is that many of the poor in richer countries are that way because they spend their money poorly and don’t plan ahead. Many don’t have the skills to stretch a dollar. He doesn’t seem to get the feed a man a fish vs. teach a man to fish thing.

  46. Ann Says:


    I think he gets that the poor have to help themselves as well — this is from his address to Congress:

    “I would like to take this opportunity to dialogue with the many thousands of men and women who strive each day to do an honest day’s work, to bring home their daily bread, to save money and – one step at a time – to build a better life for their families.”

  47. Mike Says:

    @Neo: “Mike:

    So you think public executions of thieves is a better and less barbaric way to go than several years in prison.

    And you think I’m the one with the “vast lacunae” of knowledge.”

    You were the one complaining about the straw man argument. Now you employ it. I said nothing of the sort. Do you possibly think that every thief ever caught was publicly executed? We can just dismiss that comment.

    Here is one of a million:

    Our current system is so backward and barbaric compared to the Middle Ages, for example – which was relatively humane overall – that it is shameful.

    Francis is 100% both correct and morally right.

  48. Mike Says:

    @blert: Do me a favor and look up the term non sequitor, and then go re-read your premise about Argentina.

    I don’t even know where to begin…

    Take a mulligan on this thread.

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