Video: Pope Francis Picks Up Church’s Cross

As we begin Holy Week, Pope Francis modeled for all Christians the way of humility and what it means to take up the cross and bear the sin – actual sin – of the church and the world.

In unscripted remarks to the France-based International Catholic Child Bureau, the Pope took responsibility for the harm done by priests against children in the pedophilia scandal. While other popes have castigated the abusers and prayed for the victims, none have take personal responsibility. Pope Francis said:

“I feel that I must take responsibility for all the harm that some priests – quite a number, but not in proportion to the total – I must take responsibility and ask forgiveness for the damage they have caused through sexual abuse of children. The Church is aware of this damage. It is their own personal and moral damage, but they are men of the Church. And we will not take one step backwards in dealing with this problem and the sanctions that must be imposed. On the contrary, I believe that we must be even stronger. You do not interfere with children.”

Colm O’Gorman: ‘Wilful Blindness Creates Monsters’

Colm O’Gorman, founder and former director of One in Four, a non-governmental organisation that supports women and men who have experienced sexual abuse, wrote a strong essay in the UK’s The Tablet this week on the Jimmy Savile pedophilia case.

Savile was a popular media personality in the UK for more than 30 years. He was both knighted by the Queen and given a papal knighthood from the Vatican. Savile run and contributed to a number of charities and is estimated to have raised £40 million for charity. After his death a year ago, police began investigating long-standing allegations of child sexual abuse.

The police now describe him as a “predatory sex offender” and are pursuing over 400 separate lines of inquiry based on the testimony of 300 potential victims via fourteen police forces across the UK.

O’Gorman asks why it took so long when everyone knew that Savile was “into little girls.” With powerful people and in powerful institutions it is easy to look the other way when something “unseemly” arises, but people of faith need to keep our fires of righteous anger stoked so we are ready to confront directly those predatory forces that stalk the vulnerable.

Here’s an excerpt from Colm O’Gorman commentary “Silence is Sin”:

“… [P]owerful institutions rarely cast an objectively critical eye inwards. Power rarely subjects itself to honest and open scrutiny, and when it either discovers serious wrongdoing within its own ranks, or indeed is itself guilty of wrongdoing, it often acts to cover up such corruption in an effort to protect its reputation and its authority.

Such wilful blindness creates monsters. The crimes of child abusers … are only possible within a culture of silence and denial. It has often been said that those who sexually abuse children rely upon secrecy, that sexual abuse is possible because it is a secret crime and that its victims are silent and voiceless. Surely, we need to question that view. What the abuse scandals in the Church, and now with Jimmy Savile, reveal is that secrecy is not the enabler of such crimes but rather silence is; the silence of those who shared rumour and gossip but who failed to act to protect desperately vulnerable children and young people.”–Colm O’Gorman, Silence is Sin (The Tablet)

Vatican Undercut Irish Bishops’ Bold Child Abuse Policies, 1997 Letter Reveals

N. 808/97
Dublin, 31 January 1997
Strictly Confidential

Your Excellency,

The Congregation for the Clergy has attentively studied the complex question of sexual abuse of minors by clerics and the document entitled “Child Sexual Abuse : Framework for a Church Response”, published by the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Advisory Committee.

The Congregation wishes to emphasize the need for this document to conform to the canonical norms presently in force.

The text, however, contains “procedures and dispositions which appear contrary to canonical discipline and which, if applied, could invalidate the acts of the same Bishops who are attempting to put a stop to these problems.  If such procedures were to be followed by the Bishops and there were cases of eventual hierarchical recourse lodged at the Holy See, the results could be highly embarrassing and detrimental to those same Diocesan authorities.

In particular, the situation of ‘mandatory reporting’ gives rise to serious reservations of both a moral and a canonical nature”.

Since the policies on sexual abuse in the English speaking world exhibit many of the same characteristics and procedures, the Congregation is involved in a global study of them.  At the appropriate time, with the collaboration of the interested Episcopal Conferences and in dialogue with them, the Congregation will not be remiss in establishing some concrete directives with regard to these Policies.

To: the Members of the Irish Episcopal Conference – their Dioceses.

For these reasons and because the above mentioned text is not an official document of the Episcopal Conference but merely a study document, I am directed to inform the individual Bishops of Ireland of the preoccupations of the Congregation in its regard, underlining that in the sad cases of accusations of sexual abuse by clerics, the procedures established by the Code of Canon Law must be meticulously followed under pain of invalidity of the acts involved if the priest so punished were to make hierarchical recourse against his Bishop.

Asking you to kindly let me know of the safe receipt of this letter and with the assurance of my cordial regard, I am [sic]

Yours sincerely in Christ,

+Luciano Storero
Apostolic Nuncio

Investigative journalist Mick Peelo, from the Irish TV show Would You Believe?, this week revealed a 1997 letter (see above) from the Vatican warning Ireland’s Catholic bishops not to report all suspected child-abuse cases to police. Apparently, Peelo received it from an Irish bishop.

“Child-abuse activists in Ireland said the 1997 letter should demonstrate, once and for all, that the protection of pedophile priests from criminal investigation was not only sanctioned by Vatican leaders but ordered by them,” writes AP reporter Shawn Pogatchnik. “A key argument employed by the Vatican in defending dozens of lawsuits over clerical sex abuse in the United States is that it had no role in ordering local church authorities to suppress evidence of crimes.”

In 1996 the Irish bishops responded to the massive number of allegations regarding child sexual abuse by adopting very bold policies (see “Child Sexual Abuse: Framework for a Church Response”) that, as Bishop Michael Smith put it, finally “put the child at the center.” In 1997, this new letter reveals, the Vatican immediately sought to undermine the approach taken by the Irish bishops.

“The letter is of huge international significance, because it shows that the Vatican’s intention is to prevent reporting of abuse to criminal authorities. And if that instruction applied here, it applied everywhere,” said Colm O’Gorman, director of the Irish chapter of human rights watchdog Amnesty International.

AP reporter Shawn Pogatchnik explains further the importance of the letter:

In the January 1997 letter seen Tuesday by the AP, the Vatican’s diplomat in Ireland at the time, Archbishop Luciano Storero, told the bishops that a senior church panel in Rome, the Congregation for the Clergy, had decided that the Irish church’s year-old policy of “mandatory” reporting of abuse claims conflicted with canon law.

Storero emphasized in the letter that the Irish church’s policy was not recognized by the Vatican and was “merely a study document.” He said canon law — which required abuse allegations to be handled within the church — “must be meticulously followed.”

Without elaborating Storero, who died in 2000, wrote that mandatory reporting of child-abuse claims to police “gives rise to serious reservations of both a moral and a canonical nature.”

He warned that bishops who followed the Irish child-protection policy and reported a priest’s suspected crimes to police ran the risk of having their in-house punishments of the priest overturned by the Congregation for the Clergy.

Last March, when Pope Benedict wrote his “pastoral letter to the Catholics of Ireland” condemning pedophiles within the church, he blamed Irish bishops for failing to follow canon law, however he made no acknowledgment of the Vatican’s own role in secretly blocking the Irish bishop’s efforts to improve child protection and bring abuser priests to justice.

Would You Believe?’s 40-minute video “Unspeakable Crimes” is a fair and thorough examination of the culture of secrecy around sexual abuse cases that Pope Benedict is both trying to change and completely caught up in. Extensive interviews with members of Voice of the Faithful in Ireland, canon lawyers, bishops, priests, psychologists, and Vatican reporters.

The video is an excellent tool for Catholics who want to reflect together on the ongoing revelations around sexual abuse and how best to advance protection from abusive priests and the culture of clericalism that fosters secrecy and abuse.

The Irish church is currently in the midst of a “visitation” by Cardinal O’Malley regarding the sexual abuse scandal. But, as one person interviewed said, “It’s still not getting to the issue. This is a big problem that’s institutional. It’s bigger than the Irish church.”

Sources:
Would You Believe? “Unspeakable Crimes” (January 17, 2011) VIDEO
Voice of the Faithful Ireland
Vatican warned Irish bishops not to report abuse By Shawn Pogatchnik, Associated Press (17 Jan 2011)
Child Sexual Abuse: Framework for a Church Response (1996) adopted by the Irish Catholic church
Pastoral Letter to the Catholics of Ireland from Pope Benedict XVI (March 20, 2010)

Pope Benedict: “Greatest Persecution of the Church is from Sin Within”

On the papal plane, Shepherd One, en route to Portugal to visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, National Catholic Reporter senior correspondent John Allen got an interesting response from the Pope on the issue of the “sin within the church.”

Benedict’s emphasis on the greatest challenge to the church being from within, rather than attacks from the outside, is different from what other church leaders have recently claimed, that the media, the Jews, or secularists were to blame for unjust criticism of the church. (Really? That old playbook?)

The Pope’s response in the interview with Allen is intriguing because Benedict aligns the suffering of the church as embodied in the suffering of the pope – “because the Pope stands for the church” – but then states clearly that the greatest challenge of the church is sin from within. This raises the final corollary question – does the Pope carry the sin of the church within himself? The question is, of course, both theological and personal.

That the whole conversation is couched in the mysticism of the appearances of Mary at Fatima in 1917 is also fascinating. Here’s an excerpt from the interview:

John Allen: Now we look to Fatima, which will be the spiritual culmination of this trip. What meaning do the apparitions of Fatima have for us today? When you presented the Third Secret of Fatima in a press conference at the Vatican Press Office in June 2000, you were asked if the message of the secret could be extended beyond the assassination attempt against John Paul II to other sufferings of the popes. Could it also be extended to put the suffering of the church today in the context of that vision, including the sins of the sexual abuse of minors?

Pope Benedict XVI: First of all, I want to express my joy to go to Fatima, to pray before the Madonna of Fatima, and to experience the presence of the faith there, where from the little ones a new force of the faith was born. It’s not limited to the little ones, but has a message for the whole world and all epochs of history, it illuminates this history. As I said in the presentation, there is a supernatural impulse which doesn’t come simply from someone’s imagination but from the supernatural reality of the Virgin Mary. That impulse enters into a subject, and is expressed according to the possibilities of the subject, who is determined by his or her historic situation. The supernatural impulse is translated, so to speak, according to the subject’s possibilities for imagining it and expressing it. In this expression formed by the subject, there are always hidden possibilities to go beyond, to go deeper. Only with time can we see all the depth which was, so to speak, dressed in this vision, which was possible for the concrete person.

With regard to this great vision of the suffering of the popes, beyond the circumstances of John Paul II, other realities are indicated which over time will develop and become clear. Thus it’s true that beyond the moment indicated in the vision, one speaks about and sees the necessity of suffering by the church. It’s focused on the person of the pope, but the pope stands for the church, and therefore sufferings of the church are announced. The church will always be suffering in various ways, up to the end of the world. The important point is that the message of Fatima in its substance is not addressed to particular situations, but a fundamental response: permanent conversion, penance, prayer, and the three cardinal virtues: faith, hope and charity. One sees there the true, fundamental response the church must give, which each of us individually must give, in this situation.

In terms of what we today can discover in this message, attacks against the pope or the church don’t come just from outside the church. The suffering of the church also comes from within the church, because sin exists in the church. This too has always been known, but today we see it in a really terrifying way. The greatest persecution of the church doesn’t come from enemies on the outside, but is born in sin within the church. The church thus has a deep need to re-learn penance, to accept purification, to learn on one hand forgiveness but also the necessity of justice. Forgiveness does not exclude justice. We have to re-learn the essentials: conversion, prayer, penance, and the theological virtues. That’s how we respond, and we can be realistic in expecting that evil will always launch attacks from within and from outside, but the forces of good are also always present, and finally the Lord is stronger than evil. The Madonna for us is the visible maternal guarantee that the will of God is always the last word in history.

Read the whole interview here.