Tuesday, August 21, 2018

The Vatican released a letter Monday from Pope Francis directly addressing for the first time the latest accusations of sexual abuse by priests

Letter of His Holiness Pope Francis to the People of God

Dear Colleagues and Friends,

"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, spiritualties 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 combating 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

(CNN) The Vatican released a letter Monday [August 20] from Pope Francis directly addressing for the first time the latest accusations of sexual abuse by priests


  1. How about criminal prosecutions of predator priests and anyone who covered up their heinous crimes instead of "prayers and fasting"?

  2. "It doesn't help. The church cannot police itself. By that I mean the pope, the cardinals, the bishops, and the priests. Lay Catholic theologians in America and Europe need to step in and push for criminals to go to jail. But in the US right now, it all depends upon what states do with the statute of limitations. And if nothing is done, the Catholic Church is toast. It's already bleeding in USA. Just a matter of time." -MT

  3. "He could easily direct every Bishop to release all personnel files of any suspicious priests to law enforcement immediately. That is well within canon law. And kick every pedophile from the priesthood. But that’s harder - priests can fight that one in ecclesiastical court if there is no conviction on record."- Richard Sasso

  4. "Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke is calling on every state to conduct a grand jury investigation into predator priests in the Catholic Church.

    "After a damning grand jury report released by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court earlier this month found that over 300 predator priests sexually abused over a 1,000 children in Pennsylvania, Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke is calling on every state to conduct a similar grand jury investigation into predator priests being protected by the Catholic Church.

    "Justice Burke, a devout Catholic who was once interim chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops study on nationwide clerical sexual abuse in 2002, is arguing that the government, and not the church, should be investigating predator priests and the church leaders protecting and enabling the predators.

    "Commenting on the Pennsylvania grand jury report, Burke told the Chicago Sun Times: 'I wasn’t shocked. Not at all.'

    "Noting the intolerable abuses within the church Burke opined: 'I think every state should convene a grand jury into this culture of secrecy that protected offenders at all costs.'

    "Commenting on her experience working on the 2002 U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops study on nationwide clerical sexual abuse, Burke said: 'It was happening in Chicago, but we had to rely on files the bishops were willing to give us – and we knew there had to be more, but we had no subpoena powers. We had no government authority! We did a lot of research, but a lot was kept from us and we knew it. And shockingly, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops charter our National Review Board was appointed under did NOT include investigating the BISHOPS! Or even penalizing the bishops or Cardinals for transferring these priests'" (Patheos, Aug. 22).

  5. "Instead of giving tithes every Sunday, give your thoughts and prayers. Let's see how that works out for the Church."-Barnet Weiss

  6. DUBLIN — "A former Vatican ambassador to the United States has alleged in an 11-page letter that Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis — among other top Catholic Church officials — had been aware of sexual misconduct allegations against a top American cardinal years before that prelate resigned this summer..." (Washington Post, Aug. 26, 2018).

  7. "You need to clean up your act. You need to get your church in order. You need to take all of those priests that have been abusing children and put them in jail so they cannot abuse children any longer.

    "You know, his letter was really nicely written. I give him credit for that, but it was not sincere. He was not proactive. And the only reason that he did it was because of the pressure. It was pressure on him to say something"-Sharon Tell.

  8. "Prayer, penance, fasting, they're all words. I need action. You know, you want to step up and take control of your church? Demand that these bishops and these cardinals stop protecting predators, stop the lobbying against legislation that would help victims past, present, and future.

    "Pretend it was your father, that got abused. What would you do to protect your dad, Pope Francis? Would you pray for him? That would be it? Would you fast? Would that be it? That's not enough for us. He needs to take control of the church"-John Delaney.

  9. "Stop the prayer and penance and skipping meals and fasting or whatever and start paying attention to the victims. Not the handpicked victims that he has been -- and the other popes have all paid attention to. They're not listening to us, he is not listening to us..."-Juliann Bortz.

  10. Even though there are approximately 7.5 billion people in the world today, let's think about the logic of this assertion that we hear so often: "God listens to and answers our prayers [in real time]."

    I assume there are no "scientific studies" done about the efficacy of intercessory prayers. I also assume no religious organization would want a scientific confirmation either because of the high risk for logical refutation.

  11. Some people say “to believe that God exists is to believe that one stands in some relation to God’s existence, such that God’s existence is itself the reason for one’s belief”; these non-theists choose not to make a leap from reason and/or bewilderment to an invocation of the supernatural when confronted with the injustice of predatory, egregious acts.

    And though non-theists do not have a belief in God's existence, most of them have moral and ethical convictions, nonetheless. They know where the notion of right and wrong comes from. When they find out about an institution that is complicit with heinous crimes against innocent children, they want moral and legal justice and not more prayers, penance and fasting.

  12. "…I absolutely renounce all higher harmony. It is not worth one little tear of even that one tormented child who beat her chest with her little fist and prayed to ‘dear God’ in a stinking outhouse with her unredeemed tears! It's not worth it, because her tears remain unredeemed. They must be redeemed, otherwise there can be no harmony. But how, how will you redeem them? Is it possible? Can they be redeemed by being avenged? But what do I care if the tormentors are in hell? What can hell set right here, if these ones have already been tormented? And where is the harmony, if there is hell? …And if the sufferings of children goes to make up the sum of suffering needed to buy truth, then I assert beforehand that the whole truth is not worth such a price…” (Dostoevsky, Fyodor. The Brothers Karamazov. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1990. p. 245).

  13. "...ViganĂ² wants to be the hero in this story, but his anti-gay bigotry isn’t even subtle and his own history suggests complicity with abuse. That’s ironic given how he closes the letter:

    "'Francis is abdicating the mandate which Christ gave to Peter to confirm the brethren. Indeed, by his action he has divided them, led them into error, and encouraged the wolves to continue to tear apart the sheep of Christ’s flock.'

    "That’s what he wrote before calling on the pope to step down.

    "It’s never good when the man who says the pope must resign for ruining the Catholic Church is also guilty of helping destroy the Church’s reputation through outdated slander, a celebration of bigotry, and stifling investigations.

    "He’s not necessarily the ideal guy to have on your side. Sure, the pope should resign, but ViganĂ² isn’t blameless either" (Patheos).

  14. "The recent news of Catholic priests committing heinous acts of sexual violence in Pennsylvania is horrible and it also isn’t surprising. The Catholic Church has a long history of sexual violence and also trying to cover up such acts.

    "I’d like to remind everyone about a bill the Catholic church advocated against about two years ago. In New York, the Child Victims Act would make it easier for people who experienced sex abuse as children to get justice. The Catholic Church spent 2.1 million dollars lobbying against this act. This act would eliminate the statute of limitations for when a victim could sue. Limiting the time for when a victim could sue would significantly help the Catholic Church as many victims don’t feel comfortable coming forward until they are adults.

    "All of this was public record. The church was simply trying to save money from future lawsuits instead of caring about justice for those who were harmed. So the Catholic Church has multiple levels of people doing terrible behavior..." (Matthew Facciani, Patheos).

  15. From Catholic Church spent $2M on major N.Y. lobbying firms to block child-sex law reform, May 30, 2016 New York Daily News:

    “ALBANY — Not leaving it to divine chance, the state Catholic Conference has turned in recent years to some of Albany's most well-connected and influential lobby firms to help block a bill that would make it easier for child sex abuse victims to seek justice.

    “The Catholic Conference, headed by Timothy Cardinal Dolan, has used Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker, Patricia Lynch & Associates, Hank Sheinkopf, and Mark Behan Communications to lobby against the Child Victims Act as well as for or against other measures.

    “All told, the conference spent more than $2.1 million on lobbying from 2007 through the end of 2015, state records show. That does not include the conference's own internal lobbying team. Filings show the lobbyists were retained, in part, to work on issues associated with ‘statute of limitations’ and ‘timelines for commencing certain civil actions related to sex offenses.’ Other issues included parochial school funding and investment tax credits…

    “While a far cry from the millions in lobbying top special interests spend in Albany each year, advocates for child sex abuse survivors say the $2.1 million spent likely represents a worthwhile investment to the Catholic Conference if it can continue to block legislation that would eliminate the statute of limitations on child sex abuse civil cases and open a one-year window to bring lawsuits for victims who can no longer sue under current law.

    “The Catholic Conference has argued that opening a one-year window to revive old cases could ultimately bankrupt the Church… The Catholic Church, some Orthodox Jewish groups, and other private entities oppose legislation by Assemblywoman Margaret Markey (D-Queens) and Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan) that would eliminate the time limit that prohibits adults who were victimized as children from bringing civil cases after their 23rd birthdays…”