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Pope encourages priests disheartened by sex abuse fallout

On memorial of St. John Vianney, pope’s letter was addressed to all priests

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis on Sunday sent a new letter to priests worldwide offering encouragement in light of the global sex abuse scandal that has shaken the Roman Catholic Church.

In a nearly 5,000-word letter sent on the feast day of St. John Vianney, patron of parish priests, the pope on Sunday acknowledged the “pain” of priests who “feel themselves attacked and blamed for crimes they did not commit.”

The pontiff said that priests have shared with him “their outrage at what happened, and their frustration that ‘for all their hard work, they have to face the damage that was one, the suspicion and uncertainty to which it has given rise, and the doubts, fears and disheartenment felt by more than a few.’”

Francis said “without denying or dismissing the harm” caused by the scandals, “it would be unfair not to express our gratitude” to priests who have fulfilled their duties “faithfully and generously.”

Francis said the Church is “fully committed” to reforms to ensure “that the culture of abuse will have no time to develop, much less continue.” He added that “if in the past, omission may itself have been a kind of response, today we desire conversion, transparency, sincerity and solidarity with the victims.”

The pope last August issued a letter to Catholics around the world condemning the “crime” of priestly sexual abuse and cover-up, and demanding accountability, in response to revelations in the United States of decades of misconduct by the Catholic Church. In the letter, the pope also begged forgiveness for the pain suffered by the victims and said lay Catholics must be involved in any efforts to root out abuse and cover-up.

In the letter to priests, the pope wrote that there is currently a time of “ecclesial purification” that “makes us realize that without (God) we are simply dust.”

“He is rescuing us from hypocrisy, from the spirituality of appearances. He is breathing forth His spirit in order to restore the beauty of His bride, caught in adultery,” he said. “Our humble repentance, expressed in silent tears before these atrocious sins and the unfathomable grandeur of God’s forgiveness, is the beginning of a renewal of our holiness.”

Pope Francis also encouraged priests to find the strength to persevere while warning them not to succumb into the temptation of despair “amid trials, weakness and the consciousness of our limitations.”

Gratitude for all the ways God has shown love, patience and forgiveness “is always a powerful weapon” that can “renew — and not simply patch up — our life and mission,” he said.

The pope also called on priests to not be tempted by sadness which can turn into a habit and “lead us slowly to accept evil and injustice by quietly telling us: ‘It has always been like this.’”

That sadness, he said, “stifles every effort at change and conversion by sowing resentment and hostility.”

Pope Francis said that by establishing a personal relationship with Christ and the people they serve, priests will “never lose the joy of knowing that we are ‘the sheep of His flock’ and that He is our Lord and shepherd.”

Catholic News Service contributed to this article.

Read the full letter at bit.ly/2KxnJ8a

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