A senior Australian Catholic official has warned that Pope Francis may be retreating from his crackdown on pedophile priests, The Australian reports.
The Catholic Church in Australia could end up as a "marginalised rump" unless there is real change to an institutional culture hell-bent on self-protection and self-preservation, Truth Justice and Healing Council CEO Francis Sullivan says.
Mr Sullivan, who has led the Australian Church's response to the four-year child sex abuse royal commission, points to very disturbing recent developments in Rome, including reports Pope Francis is starting to go light on some pedophile priests.
"You have to seriously wonder whether this isn't the Pope backsliding on what has been a strong and determined crackdown on offending priests and the circumstances that allowed abuse to take place," he said.
Pope Francis has told bishops around the world to adhere to a zero tolerance policy for clergy who sexually abuse children but has reportedly reduced sanctions against some offending priests.
Mr Sullivan said another concerning development is Irish clerical abuse survivor and advocate Marie Collins's resignation from the Vatican's child protection commission, citing resistance from the Vatican.
"Together these two developments paint a picture of the Vatican establishment, its bureaucrats and courtiers, doing all they can to either undermine the Pope or driving an agenda that is about maintaining the status quo and protecting the institution."
It is a very dangerous time for the Catholic Church in Australia, Mr Sullivan said in a speech in Sydney on Friday night.
"If the Church in Australia doesn't see continuous, concerted change from our leaders driven and backed by an active and demanding Catholic community, then our Church as a religion will become a marginalised rump, stripped of credibility and relevance, left to preach to an ever ageing congregation with eyes on an ever dimming hereafter."
Truth Justice and Healing Council's Francis Sullivan. (The Record)
Vatican undermines abuse reform: Aust body (The Australian)