Aboard a plane from Israel to Rome, Pope Francis talked to reporters about a range of issues, including clergy sexual abuse and an October meeting of bishops that many hope might shift the Catholic Church’s approach to gay and lesbian people.
After a three-day trip to Jordan, Palestine, and Israel, Pope Francis held a mid-air press conference Monday, during which, according to The Boston Globe’s John Allen, he announced he would hold a small Mass at the Vatican next month with survivors of clergy sexual abuse. Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley, an adviser to the pope, will help coordinate the event, which will include survivors from the United Kingdom, Germany, and Ireland.
The 77-year-old pope called sexual abuse of children a “very grave crime” and used his strongest language yet that bishops must be held accountable for failing to protect children.
According to the Globe, three Catholic bishops are currently under investigation by the Vatican for their roles in covering up sexual abuse. The pope did not specify which bishops the Vatican is investigating. In the U.S., only one bishop, Robert Finn of Kansas City, has been convicted in civil court for failing to report sexual abuse to police.
During that same press conference, the pope appeared to downplay expectations about the upcoming Synod on Families, a global meeting of bishops at the Vatican this fall.
According to Vatican Insider, when asked about the event, Pope Francis said that the meeting must be broader than individual questions such as, Can a divorced and remarried Catholic receive communion?
Late last year, the Vatican asked bishops around the world to consult the laity on a range of family issues, including divorce and homosexuality.
In the U.S., the bishops who released a summary of their findings reported that the laity are unhappy with the church’s current approach to divorce and same-sex couples. Some bishops have publicly called on the church to be more pastoral to families headed by same-gender parents.
Aboard the Al Italia flight to Rome, the pope said. “The pastoral problem facing the family is vast,” and, regarding divorce and remarriage, that “each case needs to be looked at separately.”
The Catholic Church prohibits divorce, and those Catholics who divorce and remarried are not welcome to receive communion. The pope, however, stressed that divorced Catholics are not excommunicated, or cut off from the sacraments.
“So often they are treated as though they have been excommunicated,” he said.
Also during his visit to the Holy Land, the pope invited the presidents of Israel and Palestine to a prayer meeting at the Vatican this summer. Both leaders accepted, though the Vatican said no date has been set.
The pope traveled with Muslim and Jewish leaders to the region, which is plagued by religious conflict.
Follow Michael O’Loughlin on Twitter at @mikeoloughlin.