Pope Francis Writes to Church about Pervasive Sexual Violence

Quote: “Clericalism, whether fostered by priests themselves or by lay persons, leads to an excision in the ecclesial body that supports and helps to perpetuate many of the evils that we are condemning today. To say “no” to abuse is to say an emphatic “no” to all forms of clericalism.”–Pope Francis

20 August 2018
LETTER OF HIS HOLINESS POPE FRANCIS TO THE PEOPLE OF GOD

“If one member suffers, all suffer together with it” (1 Cor 12:26). These words of Saint Paul forcefully echo in my heart as I acknowledge once more the suffering endured by many minors due to sexual abuse, the abuse of power and the abuse of conscience perpetrated by a significant number of clerics and consecrated persons. Crimes that inflict deep wounds of pain and powerlessness, primarily among the victims, but also in their family members and in the larger community of believers and nonbelievers alike. Looking back to the past, no effort to beg pardon and to seek to repair the harm done will ever be sufficient. Looking ahead to the future, no effort must be spared to create a culture able to prevent such situations from happening, but also to prevent the possibility of their being covered up and perpetuated. The pain of the victims and their families is also our pain, and so it is urgent that we once more reaffirm our commitment to ensure the protection of minors and of vulnerable adults.

1. If one member suffers…

In recent days, a report was made public which detailed the experiences of at least a thousand survivors, victims of sexual abuse, the abuse of power and of conscience at the hands of priests over a period of approximately seventy years. Even though it can be said that most of these cases belong to the past, nonetheless as time goes on we have come to know the pain of many of the victims. We have realized that these wounds never disappear and that they require us forcefully to condemn these atrocities and join forces in uprooting this culture of death; these wounds never go away. The heart-wrenching pain of these victims, which cries out to heaven, was long ignored, kept quiet or silenced. But their outcry was more powerful than all the measures meant to silence it, or sought even to resolve it by decisions that increased its gravity by falling into complicity. The Lord heard that cry and once again showed us on which side he stands. Mary’s song is not mistaken and continues quietly to echo throughout history. For the Lord remembers the promise he made to our fathers: “he has scattered the proud in their conceit; he has cast down the mighty from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty” (Lk 1:51-53). We feel shame when we realize that our style of life has denied, and continues to deny, the words we recite.

With shame and repentance, we acknowledge as an ecclesial community that we were not where we should have been, that we did not act in a timely manner, realizing the magnitude and the gravity of the damage done to so many lives. We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them. I make my own the words of the then Cardinal Ratzinger when, during the Way of the Cross composed for Good Friday 2005, he identified with the cry of pain of so many victims and exclaimed: “How much filth there is in the Church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to [Christ]! How much pride, how much self-complacency! Christ’s betrayal by his disciples, their unworthy reception of his body and blood, is certainly the greatest suffering endured by the Redeemer; it pierces his heart. We can only call to him from the depths of our hearts: Kyrie eleison – Lord, save us! (cf. Mt 8:25)” (Ninth Station).

2. … all suffer together with it

The extent and the gravity of all that has happened requires coming to grips with this reality in a comprehensive and communal way. While it is important and necessary on every journey of conversion to acknowledge the truth of what has happened, in itself this is not enough. Today we are challenged as the People of God to take on the pain of our brothers and sisters wounded in their flesh and in their spirit. If, in the past, the response was one of omission, today we want solidarity, in the deepest and most challenging sense, to become our way of forging present and future history. And this in an environment where conflicts, tensions and above all the victims of every type of abuse can encounter an outstretched hand to protect them and rescue them from their pain (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 228). Such solidarity demands that we in turn condemn whatever endangers the integrity of any person. A solidarity that summons us to fight all forms of corruption, especially spiritual corruption. The latter is “a comfortable and self-satisfied form of blindness. Everything then appears acceptable: deception, slander, egotism and other subtle forms of self-centeredness, for ‘even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light’ (2 Cor 11:14)” (Gaudete et Exsultate, 165). Saint Paul’s exhortation to suffer with those who suffer is the best antidote against all our attempts to repeat the words of Cain: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen 4:9).

I am conscious of the effort and work being carried out in various parts of the world to come up with the necessary means to ensure the safety and protection of the integrity of children and of vulnerable adults, as well as implementing zero tolerance and ways of making all those who perpetrate or cover up these crimes accountable. We have delayed in applying these actions and sanctions that are so necessary, yet I am confident that they will help to guarantee a greater culture of care in the present and future.

Together with those efforts, every one of the baptized should feel involved in the ecclesial and social change that we so greatly need. This change calls for a personal and communal conversion that makes us see things as the Lord does. For as Saint John Paul II liked to say: “If we have truly started out anew from the contemplation of Christ, we must learn to see him especially in the faces of those with whom he wished to be identified” (Novo Millennio Ineunte, 49). To see things as the Lord does, to be where the Lord wants us to be, to experience a conversion of heart in his presence. To do so, prayer and penance will help. I invite the entire holy faithful People of God to a penitential exercise of prayer and fasting, following the Lord’s command.[1] This can awaken our conscience and arouse our solidarity and commitment to a culture of care that says “never again” to every form of abuse.

It is impossible to think of a conversion of our activity as a Church that does not include the active participation of all the members of God’s People. Indeed, whenever we have tried to replace, or silence, or ignore, or reduce the People of God to small elites, we end up creating communities, projects, theological approaches, spiritualities and structures without roots, without memory, without faces, without bodies and ultimately, without lives.[2] This is clearly seen in a peculiar way of understanding the Church’s authority, one common in many communities where sexual abuse and the abuse of power and conscience have occurred. Such is the case with clericalism, an approach that “not only nullifies the character of Christians, but also tends to diminish and undervalue the baptismal grace that the Holy Spirit has placed in the heart of our people”.[3] Clericalism, whether fostered by priests themselves or by lay persons, leads to an excision in the ecclesial body that supports and helps to perpetuate many of the evils that we are condemning today. To say “no” to abuse is to say an emphatic “no” to all forms of clericalism.

It is always helpful to remember that “in salvation history, the Lord saved one people. We are never completely ourselves unless we belong to a people. That is why no one is saved alone, as an isolated individual. Rather, God draws us to himself, taking into account the complex fabric of interpersonal relationships present in the human community. God wanted to enter into the life and history of a people” (Gaudete et Exsultate, 6). Consequently, the only way that we have to respond to this evil that has darkened so many lives is to experience it as a task regarding all of us as the People of God. This awareness of being part of a people and a shared history will enable us to acknowledge our past sins and mistakes with a penitential openness that can allow us to be renewed from within. Without the active participation of all the Church’s members, everything being done to uproot the culture of abuse in our communities will not be successful in generating the necessary dynamics for sound and realistic change. The penitential dimension of fasting and prayer will help us as God’s People to come before the Lord and our wounded brothers and sisters as sinners imploring forgiveness and the grace of shame and conversion. In this way, we will come up with actions that can generate resources attuned to the Gospel. For “whenever we make the effort to return to the source and to recover the original freshness of the Gospel, new avenues arise, new paths of creativity open up, with different forms of expression, more eloquent signs and words with new meaning for today’s world” (Evangelii Gaudium, 11).

It is essential that we, as a Church, be able to acknowledge and condemn, with sorrow and shame, the atrocities perpetrated by consecrated persons, clerics, and all those entrusted with the mission of watching over and caring for those most vulnerable. Let us beg forgiveness for our own sins and the sins of others. An awareness of sin helps us to acknowledge the errors, the crimes and the wounds caused in the past and allows us, in the present, to be more open and committed along a journey of renewed conversion.

Likewise, penance and prayer will help us to open our eyes and our hearts to other people’s sufferings and to overcome the thirst for power and possessions that are so often the root of those evils. May fasting and prayer open our ears to the hushed pain felt by children, young people and the disabled. A fasting that can make us hunger and thirst for justice and impel us to walk in the truth, supporting all the judicial measures that may be necessary. A fasting that shakes us up and leads us to be committed in truth and charity with all men and women of good will, and with society in general, to combatting all forms of the abuse of power, sexual abuse and the abuse of conscience.

In this way, we can show clearly our calling to be “a sign and instrument of communion with God and of the unity of the entire human race” (Lumen Gentium, 1).

“If one member suffers, all suffer together with it”, said Saint Paul. By an attitude of prayer and penance, we will become attuned as individuals and as a community to this exhortation, so that we may grow in the gift of compassion, in justice, prevention and reparation. Mary chose to stand at the foot of her Son’s cross. She did so unhesitatingly, standing firmly by Jesus’ side. In this way, she reveals the way she lived her entire life. When we experience the desolation caused by these ecclesial wounds, we will do well, with Mary, “to insist more upon prayer”, seeking to grow all the more in love and fidelity to the Church (SAINT IGNATIUS OF LOYOLA, Spiritual Exercises, 319). She, the first of the disciples, teaches all of us as disciples how we are to halt before the sufferings of the innocent, without excuses or cowardice. To look to Mary is to discover the model of a true follower of Christ.

May the Holy Spirit grant us the grace of conversion and the interior anointing needed to express before these crimes of abuse our compunction and our resolve courageously to combat them.

Vatican City, 20 August 2018

FRANCIS

[1] “But this kind [of demon] does not come out except by prayer and fasting” (Mt 17:21).

[2] Cf. Letter to the Pilgrim People of God in Chile (31 May 2018).

[3] Letter to Cardinal Marc Ouellet, President of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America (19 March 2016).

Pope Francis Kisses Feet of Women

kisswomenFor the fourth time in two weeks Pope Francis has chosen to focus on women in the Church as part of his teachings and witness.

On Holy Thursday he washed the feet of 12 prisoners at a juvenile facility prison in Rome. Francis washed black feet, white feet, male feet, female feet and even a foot with tattoos. Kneeling on the stone floor as the 12 youngsters sat above him, the 76-year-old Francis poured water from a silver chalice over each foot, dried it with a simple cotton towel and then bent over to kiss each one. In addition to including girls and women in this service, also included were an Orthodox Christian and a young Muslim man. (The traditionalist custom has been to wash the feet of 12 retired priests in a high Mass in church.)

Pope Francis told the detainees that Jesus washed the feet of his disciples on the eve of his crucifixion in a gesture of love and service. “This is a symbol, it is a sign — washing your feet means I am at your service,” Francis told the youngsters. “Help one another. This is what Jesus teaches us. This is what I do. And I do it with my heart. I do this with my heart because it is my duty, as a priest and bishop I must be at your service.”

Holy Saturday he dedicated his Easter Vigil homily to the women as the first witnesses to the Resurrection. “There is one last little element that I would like to emphasize in the Gospel for this Easter Vigil,” he said. “The women encounter the newness of God.” On Tuesday he spoke about Mary Magdalene’s tears and how we should follow her example of faith.

On Wednesday Pope Francis expanded his reflections to the women of the world, whom he said have a special and fundamental role in the Church and the transmission of the faith. He says:

In the professions of faith of the New Testament, only men are remembered as witnesses of the Resurrection, the Apostles, but not the women. This is because, according to the Jewish Law of the time, women and children were not considered reliable, credible witnesses. In the Gospels, however, women have a primary, fundamental role. Here we can see an argument in favor of the historicity of the Resurrection: if it were a invented, in the context of that time it would not have been linked to the testimony of women. Instead, the evangelists simply narrate what happened: the women were the first witnesses. This tells us that God does not choose according to human criteria: the first witnesses of the birth of Jesus are the shepherds, simple and humble people, the first witnesses of the Resurrection are women.

There are difficult days ahead for this pope — with the Vatican bank, the ongoing sexual abuse scandal, and the fundamental corruption that clericalism is wreaking on the church. But in the past 21 days, he has done more to restore integrity to the Catholic church than at least the previous two popes. And he is modeling Christ for the world. I intend to soak up all the healing, all the pastoral and inspiring gospel teaching and all his humble actions that he’s pouring out on the soul of the world.

What an Easter gift!

Irish Archbishop Speaks Candidly on Clergy Sex Abuse Scandal

While many bishops and priests have closed ranks when faced with the extent of the sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, Ireland, has consistently spoken clearly and directly.

This week Martin spoke at the Marquette University Law School’s conference titled “Harm, Hope and Healing: International Dialogue on the Clergy Sex Abuse Scandal,” as part of the school’s restorative justice program. “Archbishop Martin said what many Catholics want to hear, and they haven’t heard it from their Catholic leadership,” said Janine Geske, a professor at the law school who heads its Restorative Justice Initiative, in the National Catholic Reporter.

Also this week, Presbyterian pastor Peter James Vienna Presbyterian Church in Virginia stood before his congregation and acknowledged that the sexual abuse by a youth director was “far more devastating and horrific than we had imagined.” A row of young women, part of at least a dozen women who had been victimized over a four year period, sat in a back pew as James apologized.

“We failed as leaders to extend the compassion and mercy that you needed,” James said, publicly acknowledging the church’s failings for the first time. “Some of you felt uncared for, neglected and even blamed for this abuse. I am sorry. The church is sorry.”

Below are highlights from Archbishop Martin’s presentation. It needs to be read by far more than just Catholics.

I tell these events not to re-open history, but to illustrate just how difficult it is to bring an institution around to the conviction that the truth must be told. All institutions have an innate tendency to protect themselves and to hide their dirty laundry. We have to learn that the truth has a power to set free which half-truths do not have. The first condition for restorative justice is that all parties are willing to tell the truth and to take ownership of the truth, even when the truth is unpleasant. As I said at a recent liturgy of lament in Dublin: “The truth will set us free, but not in a simplistic way. The truth hurts. The truth cleanses not like smooth designer soap but like a fire that burns and hurts and lances”. ..

I still cannot accept a situation that no-one need assume accountability in the face of the terrible damage that was done to children in the Church of Christ in Dublin and in the face of how that damage was addressed. The responses seemed to be saying that it was all due to others or at most it was due to some sort of systems fault in the diocesan administration. …

But even those numbers, though shocking, have not got the right focus. Statistics are too often offender-focussed. We have to set out from the standpoint that the person who was at the epicentre of abuse was not the priest, but the victim, a child. A restorative justice approach would have to re-orient the way we draw up not just our statistics but our pastoral care. One victim constantly reminds me that the stern words of Jesus in Saint Matthew’s Gospel (Mt 18:6) about the “great millstone” to be fastened around the neck of anyone who becomes a stumbling block for the “little ones”, are quickly followed (Mt 18:12) by the teaching on the Shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine sheep to find the one who has been lost. …

The culture of clericalism has to be analysed and addressed. Were there factors of a clerical culture which somehow facilitated disastrous abusive behaviour to continue for so long? Was it just through bad decisions by Bishops or superiors? Was there knowledge of behaviour which should have given rise to concern and which went unaddressed? …

A restorative justice approach which admits and addresses the truth in charity offers a useful instrument to create a new culture within the Catholic Church which enables the truth to emerge not just in the adversarial culture which is common in our societies, but in an environment which focuses on healing. At our service of lament and repentance I stressed that scandal of the sexual abuse of children by clergy means that the Archdiocese of Dublin will never be the same again. That is more easily said than achieved. After a period of crisis there is the danger that complacency sets in and that all the structures which we have established slip down to a lower gear. …

A Church which becomes a restorative community will be one where the care of each one of the most vulnerable and most wounded will truly become the dominant concern of the ninety-nine others, who will learn to abandon their own security and try to represent Christ who still seeks out the abandoned and heals the troubled. …

Martin’s full speech is below.
Continue reading “Irish Archbishop Speaks Candidly on Clergy Sex Abuse Scandal”

Catholic Speakers: ‘In the Company of the Banned’?

BannedI got a note today from Pat Mahon over at Pax Christi South saying he’d been banned from speaking in the Diocese of Venice, Florida. He was scheduled to lead a retreat on Thomas Merton but the retreat was canceled by the chancellor. Pat speculates that this was because of his support for Catholic women’s ordination to the priesthood. Here’s an excerpt from Pat’s reflections:

I immediately began finalizing arrangements and the materials for a retreat on Merton I was giving to a parish peace and justice group on Florida’s west coast this Friday and Saturday. Then, out of the blue, I was notified Wednesday evening that the retreat was canceled because I was no longer approved to speak in the Diocese of Venice. I had been approved last March to speak on Merton in San Marco and understood that once approved, further approval was not necessary. The retreat coordinator in October was told that I was approved when he inquired to make sure. What?

I arose early after a restless night and called the contact person. The chancellor had had the person in charge of the deacons call the deacon who was coordinating the retreat to deliver the message. Speaking of dialogue, openness and transparency! The only reason I have been able to find so far is that I support the ordination of women as priests. I now join a select group of people who I been told are banned in Venice–Joan Chittister, Charlie Curran, Anthony Padovano. I also suspect that Roy Bourgeoise and John Dear are on the list.

Read Pat’s whole post here and send him a suportive note.

This tactic of “banning” speakers that someone in Catholic hierarchy doesn’t approve of is becoming more popular. In October, the diocese of Richmond refused to allow Pax Christi to meet in Holy Family Church — even though a bishop was one of the keynote speakers! Pax Christi had to hold its meeting at the local Methodist college.

It’s important to note that technically the diocese can only “ban” speakers who are holding events on diocesan-owned property. So if you hold your events elsewhere, the hierarchy can “ban” all they want but to no effect.

I find it ironic that when judges were deciding on financial settlements for priest sex abuse cases in the dioceses of Portland and Seattle, the dioceses made it clear to the judges that the churches were the property of the parishioners. This was a strategy to reduce the diocesan “assets” and therefore limit the financial exposure of the diocese. The courts saw through this and determined that the churches were part of church property. But if the diocese can make that determination once, maybe parishioners should join together into an ownership model for their parishes.

I’d love to hear other people’s experiences with diocesan approval for speakers and events.