VATICAN CITY — “No effort must be spared” to prevent future cases of clerical sexual abuse and “to prevent the possibility of their being covered up,” Pope Francis wrote in a letter addressed “to the people of God.”
“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,” the pope wrote in the letter dated and released Aug. 20.
The letter was published less than a week after the release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report on decades of clerical sexual abuse and coverups in six dioceses. The report spoke of credible allegations against 301 priests in cases involving more than 1,000 children.
“The heart-wrenching pain of these victims, which cries out to heaven, was long ignored, kept quiet or silenced,” Pope Francis wrote. “But their outcry was more powerful than all the measures meant to silence them.”
“The pain of the victims and their families is also our pain,” he stated, “and so it is urgent that we once more reaffirm our commitment to ensure the protection of minors and of vulnerable adults.”
In his letter, Pope Francis insisted all Catholics must be involved in the effort to accompany victims, to strengthen safeguarding measures and to end a culture where abuse is covered up.
While the letter called all Catholics to prayer and fasting, it does not change any current policies or offer specific new norms.
It did, however, insist that “clericalism” has been a key part of the problem and said the involvement of the laity will be crucial to addressing the crime and scandal.
Change, he stated, will require “the active participation of all the members of God’s people.”
“Many communities where sexual abuse and the abuse of power and conscience have occurred,” he wrote, are groups where there has been an effort to “reduce the people of God to small elites.”
“Clericalism, whether fostered by priests themselves or by lay persons, leads to a split in the ecclesial body that supports and helps to perpetuate many of the evils that we are condemning today,” Pope Francis stated. “To say ‘no’ to abuse is to say an emphatic ‘no’ to all forms of clericalism.”
In his letter, Pope Francis acknowledged the Church’s failure.
“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,” he wrote.
“We showed no care for the little ones,” Pope Francis stated. “We abandoned them.”
“Looking back to the past, no effort to beg pardon and to seek to repair the harm done will ever be sufficient,” he stated. “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.”
Recognizing the safeguarding policies that have been adopted in various parts of the world as well as pledges of “zero tolerance” for abusive clerics, Pope Francis also acknowledged that “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.”
As members of the Church, he wrote, all Catholics should “beg forgiveness for our own sins and the sins of others.”
Pope Francis also asked Catholics to pray and to fast so that they would be able to hear “the hushed pain” of abuse survivors.
He called for “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 combating all forms of the abuse of power, sexual abuse and the abuse of conscience.”\
- By Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service
Read the full text of Pope Francis’ letter here.
Bishops around U.S. respond with 'sorrow' to abuse report, vow to act
By Rhina Guidos, Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON -- The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Aug. 16 announced three key goals and a comprehensive plan to address the “moral catastrophe” of the new abuse scandal hitting the U.S. Church.
The plan “will involve the laity, lay experts, the clergy and the Vatican,” Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston said. This plan will be presented to the full body of bishops at their general assembly meeting in Baltimore in November.
He said the “substantial involvement of the laity” from law enforcement, psychology and other disciplines will be essential to this process.
He also said that right now, it is clear that “one root cause” of this catastrophe “is the failure of episcopal leadership.”
In a lengthy letter addressed to all Catholics, Cardinal DiNardo laid out three goals just established by the bishops’ Executive Committee in a series of meetings held early the week of Aug. 13.
The goals were described as: 1) A full investigation into the questions surrounding former cardinal Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick, 2) an opening of new and confidential channels for reporting complaints against bishops, and 3) advocacy for more effective resolution of future complaints.
The first is a “full investigation” into “the questions surrounding” Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick, a former cardinal and retired archbishop of Washington. He said the Executive Committee will ask the Vatican to conduct an apostolic visitation into these questions “in concert with” a group of laypeople identified for their expertise by the USCCB’s lay-run National Review Board who will be “empowered to act.”
The three goals “will be pursued according to three criteria: proper independence, sufficient authority and substantial leadership by laity,” he said.
At least a dozen or so prelates outside of Pennsylvania who, via Twitter, TV or in person, at Masses for the feast of the Assumption, took time to express the same sorrow and pain that lay Catholics have been feeling and expressing. But many bishops also spoke about the added layer of what to do about the pain of a shattered trust between shepherds and their angry and pain-stricken flock that many say they now must fix.
"Anger, shock, grief, shame. There is one other word that we bishops must summon: resolve. We must resolve to face our failures and hold each other accountable," wrote Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago. "We must resolve to be clear-eyed about what we have done, what we have failed to do, and what remains to be done. We must resolve to live in the light of humility, of repentance, of honesty — the light of Christ."
In a tweet, Bishop Richard F. Stika of Knoxville said he had spent the night reading a grand jury report detailing seven decades of child sex abuse claims in six Pennsylvania dioceses and "it was like reading a horror book."
Unfortunately, it was not a fictional account, wrote Bishop Stika early Aug. 15, a day after the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General published the mammoth document of more than 1,300 pages detailing accounts of the rape of children, secrecy by church officials and some law enforcement failures over 70 years.
"It is real and lives were destroyed and faith shattered," Bishop Stika tweeted.
"This is extraordinarily painful, it is humiliating, it is nauseating," said New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan during an interview with local CBS station WLNY in New York City. "This is a kick in the gut. I really worry about a loss of credibility, a loss of trust. There's no use denying it. We can't sugarcoat this. This is disastrous."
Painfully aware of the anger Catholics are voicing after the revelations out of Pennsylvania, Boston Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley said Aug. 16 that something must be done right away.
"The clock is ticking for all of us in Church leadership, Catholics have lost patience with us and civil society has lost confidence in us," wrote Cardinal O'Malley in a statement. "But I am not without hope and do not succumb to despondent acceptance that our failures cannot be corrected."
Transformation has to take place in the way the Church prepares priests, "the way we exercise pastoral leadership and the way we cooperate with civil authorities; all these have to be consistently better than has been the case," he said, adding that "we remain shamed by these egregious failures to protect children and those who are vulnerable and affirm our commitment that these failures will never be repeated."
Dallas Bishop Edward J. Burns told The Dallas Morning News he felt "sick" reading the accounts, "knowing that this occurred at the hands of men that you knew and even worked side by side with adds to a dimension of disbelief."
Bishop Burns grew up in Pittsburgh and knew some of those named in the report, The Dallas Morning News article said.
Recalling one of the priests named in the report, Bishop Burns told the newspaper that the priest "was domineering, he was extremely bossy, he did not possess a shepherd's heart, from my perspective," adding that "now I have come to recognize that he not only had a different view of priesthood, he just had a double life.
But like others, he never suspected the horrors that were taking place.
Archbishop of Detroit Allen H. Vigneron wrote in a statement Aug. 13, before the report became public, that it was disheartening, "for us once again to come face-to-face with moral failures in the priesthood, especially among us bishops."
"These sins are marks of shame upon the Church," he stated.
Though there may be the temptation to despair and think that change is not possible, "reform can only happen when hope lives," he stated.
"We must move forward with the conviction that God will not abandon His Church. He wants her purified, cleansed of these sins and brought to new life," he said.
Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez urged prayers during the feast of the Assumption for abuse victims.
"We are aware that this is a sad and confusing time for the Church in this country," he said in his homily. "In recent days and weeks, we have heard new revelations about sin and abuse in the Church. This is a time now for prayer and repentance and a time for examining our conscience, especially for those of us who are bishops and priests."
Bishop Michael F. Olson of Fort Worth, Texas, wrote in an Aug. 14 statement that it's time to hold accountable "morally and legally" those who allowed the abuse in Pennsylvania to occur, as well as those who hid alleged abuses by former Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick.
"Pledges of penitential prayer and actions on the part of Church leadership are meaningless unless first preceded by contrition, confession, firm purpose of amendment and concrete actions of conversion," he said.