By Sarah Mac Donald - 07 August, 2019
Pope Francis has sent a strong message of solidarity to priests around the world who are disheartened by the clerical abuse scandals, recognising their outrage over what occurred.
In his new “Letter to Priests” published for the 160th anniversary of the death of St John Vianney, patron saint of priests, the Pontiff refers to the Church’s increasing efforts to be “more attentive to the cry, often silent and suppressed, of our brothers and sisters who were victims of the abuse of power, the abuse of conscience and sexual abuse on the part of ordained ministers.
“This has been a time of great suffering in the lives of those who experienced such abuse, but also in the lives of their families and of the entire People of God,” the Pope wrote in the letter and added, “This pain has also affected priests.”
He acknowledges the pain of priests who “feel themselves attacked and blamed for crimes they did not commit.”
Recalling the death 160 years ago of the “holy Curé of Ars” whom Pope Pius XI proposed as the patron of parish priests, Pope Francis explains that he is writing on his feast day “to all of you, my brother priests, who have quietly ‘left all behind’ in order to immerse yourselves in the daily life of your communities.
“Like the Curé of Ars, you serve ‘in the trenches’, bearing the burden of the day and the heat (cf. Mt 20:12), confronting an endless variety of situations in your effort to care for and accompany God’s people. I want to say a word to each of you who, often without fanfare and at personal cost, amid weariness, infirmity and sorrow, carry out your mission of service to God and to your people. Despite the hardships of the journey, you are writing the finest pages of the priestly life.”
In the 5000-word letter, he tells priests that in the course of his pastoral visits in his own diocese and beyond and in his meetings and personal conversations with priests, “Many have shared with me their outrage at what happened and their frustration that ‘for all their hard work, they have to face the damage that was done, the suspicion and uncertainty to which it has given rise, and the doubts, fears and disheartenment felt by more than a few’.”
The Pope also reveals that he has received many letters from priests expressing these feelings about the abuse scandals.
Underlining that the Church is “firmly committed to carrying out the reforms needed to encourage from the outset a culture of pastoral care, so that the culture of abuse will have no room to develop, much less continue,” Pope Francis stresses that this task is neither quick nor easy and demands commitment on the part of all.
“If in the past, omission may itself have been a kind of response, today we desire conversion, transparency, sincerity and solidarity with victims to become our concrete way of moving forward. This in turn will help make us all the more attentive to every form of human suffering.”
While not denying or dismissing the harm caused by some priests, the Pontiff writes that it would be unfair not to express gratitude to all those priests who faithfully and generously spend their lives in the service of others.
“They embody a spiritual fatherhood capable of weeping with those who weep. Countless priests make of their lives a work of mercy in areas or situations that are often hostile, isolated or ignored, even at the risk of their lives. I acknowledge and appreciate your courageous and steadfast example; in these times of turbulence, shame and pain, you demonstrate that you have joyfully put your lives on the line for the sake of the Gospel.”
But the Pope also warns priests that the worst temptation of all is to keep brooding over their troubles, for then they lose their perspective, their good judgement and their courage.
“At those times, it is important – I would even say crucial – to cherish the memory of the Lord’s presence in our lives and his merciful gaze, which inspired us to put our lives on the line for him and for his People. And to find the strength to persevere and, with the Psalmist, to raise our own song of praise, ‘for his mercy endures forever’ (Ps 136).”
“Gratitude,” he underlines, “is always a powerful weapon.”
“Thank you,” Pope Francis writes, “for anointing and fervently proclaiming to all, ‘in season and out of season’ the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
“Thank you for the times when, with great emotion, you embraced sinners, healed wounds, warmed hearts and showed the tenderness and compassion of the Good Samaritan (cf. Lk 10:25-27). Nothing is more necessary than this: accessibility, closeness, readiness to draw near to the flesh of our suffering brothers and sisters.”