It was not an easy journey for Pope Francis. This week, the Catholic Church leader traveled to Canada to seek forgiveness for the crimes committed against the country’s indigenous population in Catholic boarding schools: more than 150,000 children and young people were held there until the 1990s, alienated from their culture and abused. Spectacular finds of children’s graves on the premises of the institutions testified that there were even deaths in the schools.
But can such crimes be excused at all? It was good and right that the Pope went to Canada. He set an example by specifically dedicating the trip to the indigenous population, asking for forgiveness several times and at the end of the trip also meeting with survivors from the boarding schools. But he probably did not always find the right tone: Although it is factually correct that not only the operators of the facilities, but also the supervising state authorities were responsible, such references have little place on a trip that the Pope himself as called “Penitence”.
And as much as Francis likes to speak in clauses and formulations that can be interpreted like this on the one hand and on the other hand: An even clearer distancing from the colonial history of the Catholic Church would have been good for the Pope, whose entire previous pontificate was about the fight against Eurocentrism was shaped in the church.
And yet: one would wish for a sign like that in Canada elsewhere from the Vatican. In the Catholic Church, the sexual abuse of children and young people and violence against those under protection is not a national but a global problem. It has to be tackled much more vigorously than before, also from the world level.
And that also applies to Germany: Twelve years after the cases of abuse at the Canisius College in Berlin became known, a papal trip to Germany, in which only those affected by sexual abuse in the church would be the dialogue partners of the Catholic Church leader, would be extremely desirable.
The Catholic Church in Germany has already done a lot in dealing with abuse. But the temptation to “defend the Church as an institution”, as Francis put it in Canada, continues unabated, even in this country. And the Vatican’s most recent warning letter on the “Synodal Path”, which wants to draw conclusions from the scandal, has destroyed a lot. It would be good if Francis would also send a clear signal with regard to the situation in Germany, making it clear once and for all that there is no conservative rollback taking place in the Vatican and that he supports the course of the liberal German Catholics in dealing with the abuse.