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Worldwide response to clerical child abuse needed, says Pope

By Cian Molloy - 21 August, 2018

“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.”

Pope Francis (Photo: Magnus Aronson/WCC)

Pope Francis has published a letter to all Catholics that addresses the growing number of clerical child abuse scandals.

“No effort to beg pardon and to seek to repair the harm done will ever be sufficient given the deep wounds inflicted on victims and their families and the larger community of believers and non-believers alike,” says Francis in the introduction to the 2,000-word “Letter to the People of God”.

The letter is unprecedented in the history of the Church. Previously, Papal letters have been addressed to individual bishops’ conferences or to the faithful of individual countries, such as Pope Benedict XVI’s letter to the faithful of Ireland in 2010, which concerned clerical child abuse in this country. However, Pope Francis’s letter is addressed to all of the Church’s 1.2 billion members worldwide.

The Pope quotes St Paul’s letter to Corinthians: “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it” (1 Cor 12:26). He goes on to say, “The pain of the victims and their families is also our pain and so it is urgent that once more we reaffirm our commitment to ensure the protection of minors and of vulnerable adults.”

The letter makes reference to the latest developments in the clerical child abuse scandal in the United States – the publication of an interim report in Pennsylvania indicating that for 70 years more than 300 priests abused more than 1,000 children in eight dioceses. Not only did priests escape criminal prosecution by being moved on from one parish to another, Church cover-ups gave paedophiles in clerical garb the freedom to abuse children again and again.

As a result of the Pennsylvanian revelations, and allegations that he himself was an abuser, the former Archbishop of Washington, Theodore McCarrick, has resigned from the College of Cardinals, the first cardinal to do so in nearly a century. Elsewhere, earlier this year, the Archbishop of Adelaide in Australia, Philip Wilson, resigned from his post after being convicted of failing to report clerical child abuse to civil authorities. The Cardinal Archbishop of Lyon, Philippe Barbarin, is due to go on trial in France next year on similar charges of obstructing justice.

“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,” says Pope Francis in his letter. “We have realised 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.”

The Church has failed the faithful, Pope Francis admits. “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, realising the magnitude and the gravity of the damage done to so many lives. We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them.”

In his letter, the Pope proposes a Church-wide response to the hurt caused and to the many failures to tackle the problem. “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.”

Pope Francis proposes a solidarity that summons all to fight corruption, especially spiritual corruption, which he describes as “a comfortable and self-satisfied form of blindness”, which allows “deception, slander, egotism and other subtle forms of self-centredness” to become acceptable. As part of this he proposes a regime of zero tolerance.

“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 in the future.”

The Pope calls on every Catholic to be involved in the ecclesial and social change that is needed. He says: “This change calls for a personal and communal conversion that makes us see things as the Lord does… 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.”

Read the full text of Pope Francis’s letter.

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