The Pope’s Letter On Sexual Abuse

Today Pope Francis released a letter responding to the horrific report on sexual assault involving 1,000 victims and 300 priests in the Roman Catholic Church in Pennsylvania, where I just happen to be speaking today.

I know we are talking about a religious organization, but it is still an organization, a large, wealthy, international one, and any CEO (or, if you like, Chairman of the Board) would have to issue a formal response to a scandal of this magnitude and these damning realities. There is no mystery about what such a statement has to include, if it is going to be ethical rather than defensive, sincere rather than deceitful:

1. This is unacceptable for our organization, or any organization, but especially for an organization like this one.

2. We apologize unequivocally and without qualification to the victims and their families, as well as all members and supporters of our organization who trust us and rely on us to do the right thing. We did not do the right thing. We are responsible for terrible things, things no organization should ever allow.

3. Our organization and its leadership are accountable for these acts.

4. I am personally and professionally accountable for every crime and betrayal of trust in this scandal that occurred on my watch, and there were many.

5. Therefore, I resign [OPTIONAL BUT RECOMMENDED.]

6. It is undeniable that this scandal, which is a continuation of an ongoing scandal reaching back decades if not centuries, is a byproduct of a corrupt and pathological culture within this organization. This culture must change.

7. Here are the steps the organization will take, immediately and going forward, to change it.

The entire letter is below. My ethics verdict: it is the Papal version of  Authentic Frontier Gibberish, a tsunami of words designed to blur the issues and accountability. Prayer and fasting? Gee, why didn’t we think of that before! The Boston scandal that blew the top off of the Church’s world-wide coverup was 17 years ago: I’m pretty sure there has been a lot or praying and fasting since then. Obviously, it doesn’t work, not on this, and it is insulting and demeaning for the Pope to fall back on such reflex nostrums. Some lowlights:

  • “…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.”

Gee, ya think?

  • “We feel shame when we realize that our style of life has denied, and continues to deny, the words we recite.”

Well that’s a relief: you’re ashamed. Were you not sufficiently ashamed in 2001? Why not? I guess you’ll be ashamed the next time too.

  • “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.”

Really? I’m not conscious of any such efforts that vary one iota from what the Church said it was doing the last time.

  • “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.”

Why are you confident? Why should anyone with a mind share that confidence?

Letter of His Holiness Pope Francis To the People of God

“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, spiritualities 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 combatting 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


19 thoughts on “The Pope’s Letter On Sexual Abuse

  1. I am not Catholic, so maybe it’s not my place t say anything, but I think that, if the Church was sincere in this, it would impose the most powerful punishment I think it has available, i.e., excommunication, and impose it on every single priest and bishop involved.

        • To get rid of the problem, you’d have to kick out every priest and religious who is or was an abuser as well as every priest who enabledthem, covered them up or knew about them and did nothing. If that were done, there would be effectively no priests or religious left in the church. The problem will never be solved, It is insoluble. A Catholic Church without priests is not the Catholic Church. There’s no non-priest oversight. The wolves are the hen house.

    • It is ultimately a theological argument that leads the Catholic Church to be so obstinate on this. The essential doctrines governing Grace are tripping up the Catholic Church here.

      There is an essential belief that Grace (or the God’s Mercy/Favor/Kindness) is given by God, which, in horrible vernacular analogy, “fuels” a believer’s spiritual growth and sanctification. In Catholocism, there is a basic belief that Grace flows through the Sacraments to individual believers.

      Sacraments are administered by the Priests (except in a few emergency exceptions) who become Priests themselves through a Sacrament — called Ordination or Orders.

      There is a notion based on at least one verse that Priests, once ordained, are Priests forever.

      Coupled with the belief that Grace flows through the Sacraments (which are only sacraments if administered by Priests), Grace being essential to Salvation and Sanctification, the Catholic church finds itself stuck Doctrinally.

      Now, Protestants will…ahem…protest those particular doctrines and in fact formed a substantial core of the impetus of the Reformation, but, barring a Theological argument, as long as the Catholic Church holds those ideas to be Doctrine, this problem does not have an internal solution that involves “kicking the individuals out of the Priesthood”.

  2. I suppose if you are verbose enough people will lose interest. I stopped reading after not seeing a mea culpa in the first two paragraphs.

    • True. I saw how far down it went and decided not to bother. A sincere apology should be far shorter and clearer.

      I am a lapsed member, for multiple reasons about twenty-five years ago, but I think the problem is bigger than just the church. They should be bounced, along with the most egregious enablers. The few remaining would have to have roaming parishes like colonial era and recruitment becomes a bigger thing, maybe allow marriage and women. (I considered it briefly, but most nuns had few options outside teaching and nursing) But short staffing is less a crime than allowing it to continue.

      The problem is bigger than an archdiocese or even country, priests and preachers of about every sect have abused their places of trust. Catholics have the biggest target for lawyers. Every religion must support that every religion must abide by civil laws and accept civil penalties. None of this shuffling around, or changing churches. Make do with televised and everyone go and sin a little less.

  3. Can anyone who’s read what Comrade Francis said tell me whether he mentioned the fact that the clergy’s standard response to finding out about a priest who was abusing kids in the parish was to immediately move him to another parish and bury the whole episode? I’m guessing Francis didn’t mention that. These guys are in complete and total denial.

    • That’s a convenient deflection for them.
      With the number of priests that apparently think its OK to rape kids, I wonder how many other priests are breaking their vows of celibacy, but with consenting adults?

    • Alizia, personally, I think the problem pre-dates Vatican II. By a few millenia. And of course it’s a gay problem. But we can’t let that cross our lips, can we. Oh no.

      • Hello there OB. We are called on to adjudicate complex issues on this Blog. It is not easy. One reason: the Culture Wars. The differences between people’s valuation-systems. But it is more than that: it is rally part of an epic process of the ‘transvaluation of values’ and, as I have often said (and idea that echoed into an empty room…) a metaphysical issue.

        You would be wrong, according to some of those who are quoted in the Wiki article I linked to, to say it is a Gay Issue. Sexual assault on children is a complex issue. It is a psychological issue related, they say, to ‘psychosexual arrested development’. Also: related to power and unsupervized authority. And, according to others, because of an exclusively male environment.

        I began to look into the issue after our last exchange on another thread. Yes, homosexuality has always been a part of culture and society. (Definitely in Pagan cultures). True, that Christianity repressed it. But it has always been present there and, tolerated or repressed according to the time.

        The terms Post- and Pre-Vatican are, in fact, very complex terms! Way too complex for this post (and I purposefully make an effort not to take it up!) But we can safely say that, as it pertains to ‘The General Culture’ the popular will is moving (well) away from accepting authority generally, and less that of a hierarchical Church structure steeped in Olden Metaphysics.

        Good Luck! to those who wish to reestablish a Catholicism that is passing out of the realm of thinkable thought (meaning even the notion of a Savior-Avatar who came to Earth; and all connected metaphysical ideas). We live in a mind-sphere where ALL OF THIS is no longer believed. We live then in the *fading shadows* of such systems of belief. And there is a definite agony as entire structures-of-view move from *being real* to being *false and deceptive*.

        Who defines truth? It is all up in the air. And people bicker and squabble without seeing the Larger Picture.

        But what is that Larger Picture? That ‘progress’ has come to man and, now, he can *see* according to science and scientism? Or, that science and scientism … destroy the foundations of man’s (proper) grasp of Reality?

        The *real issue* has to do with 1) living in a dual sphere where a *hell-realm* is defined as ‘real’, as is a heavenly after-world, or 2) giving up all such metaphysical definitions and to live physically, biologically, temporally and mutably. That is, returning in an ABSOLUTE sense to life in the flesh, in time, with no above nor below, no transcendent, no *metaphysical*.

        I suggest that the *real issue* is here. I mean, the real backdrop of the Culture Wars.

        As to Traditional Catholics: they long for a ‘return’ to a *world* that is fading away. The only *place* to retain it is internally, in one’s inner meditation, in the structure of view that one, shall I say, imposes on oneself.

        The ‘outer world’ does not share this view. It races forward into temporal desire, mutable pleasure, the gains of the present…

        … and one major area to be *claimed* is that of sexual pleasure.

        This is, I would suggest, the *real backdrop* to the crisis in a larger sense.

        This does not in any way shape or form change the criminal nature — the deeply criminal nature — of these abuses. In my view there must be a radical intervention, either as a will of the laity or one top-down.

        But the larger ‘sexual crisis’ of our Culture-at-large is, really, a far larger issue (well, according to me!)

        • But pederasty goes back at least to the Greeks, no? And in the west, look at all the homosexual imagery and figures in pre-Columbian art and objects. Men screwing boys or sucking each other’s dicks is as old as men and boys. I’ve even heard that in true, super macho Hispanic culture, all male/homosexual sex is preferred to heterosexual sex because women are second rate beings and having sex with them is demeaning to men. So, homosexuality and pederasty have been around since time immemorial, but their legitimacy in society as a whole has ebbed and flowed over time. The push for legitimacy is very strident right now.

  4. “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.”

    So, is he talking about dismantling the structure of the Catholic Church, the poster child for organized religion? I’m interested in seeing where this goes.

    I am rather disappointed that he seems to think that getting people to feel specific emotions is a substitute for instituting good policies and principles.
    Feelings are fleeting. Understanding and wisdom are more enduring. Equally importantly, feelings don’t give you the power to implement an approach without screwing it up. As far as concrete steps go, Jack’s point 7 was entirely absent, unless this anti-clericalism idea is going anywhere, in which case it’s only almost entirely absent.

    • EC asks: ““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 would I think be hard for you to sort through Pope Francisco’s (Pope Francis) complex ‘word-clouds’ (ah! I just remembered Charles Green’s bringing this critique against me! oh the nostalgia!) You would have to look into how he is viewed by the Traditionalist wing, and you would have to be willing to understand very complex, very labyrinthian, power-struggles and idea-struggles that have been going on now for 50-60 years.

      It is a hard area to sort through. I takes, literally, a research-project.

      It is hard to say what, precisely, he means by ‘clericalism’. I have not bothered to read his muck with any dedication because his official communications have been very muddled generally (Amoris Laetitia most specifically). He is not clear and he is considered to be muddled.

      “So, is he talking about dismantling the structure of the Catholic Church, the poster child for organized religion? I’m interested in seeing where this goes.”

      In order to answer this difficult question, you’d have to be willing to approach and confront the philosophical issues presented and explored in Pascendi Dominici Gregis: On the Doctrine of the Modernists.

      The *World* is in a process of ‘dismantling’ the idea-structures (conceptual pathways) that support organized religion, religiousness and religion generally, and is supplanting these with New Modes of living in reality, the manifest world.

      ‘Where it will go’ is a quite interesting question. Just look out the window. Just turn on the TeeVee. Look at your neighbor, look at yourself. We live now in a *world* that is very quickly undermining the foundations that had built and sustained Occidental Culture for 1500 years!

      Whether it is ‘an assault against man’ or the beginning of a Brave New World depends on … well … how you are >i>feeling today.

      Not making this up!

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