Letter from His Holiness Pope Francis to the people of God
"If one member suffers, all suffer with it" (1 Cor 12:26). These words of Saint Paul I resonate in my heart when I once again affirm the suffering that many minors undergo through sexual abuse, abuse of power and the abuse of conscience by a large number of clergy and consecrated persons.
Crimes that cause deep wounds of pain and powerlessness, mainly among the victims, but also in their relatives and in the larger community of both believers and non-believers. Looking back on the past, never attempting to apologize and repair the damage will ever be enough.
Looking forward to the future, no effort should be spared to create a culture capable of preventing such situations, but also to prevent the possibility of being covered and perpetuated. The pain of the victims and their families is also our pain, and it is therefore urgent that we reaffirm our promise to ensure the protection of minors and vulnerable adults.
1. If a member suffers …
In recent days, a report has been made public that describes the experiences of at least a thousand survivors, victims of sexual abuse, abuse of power and conscience by priests over a period of about seventy years. Although we can say that most of these cases belong to the past, over time we have come to know the pain of many of the victims.
We have realized that these wounds never disappear and force us to condemn these atrocities and join forces in uprooting this culture of death; these wounds never go away. The heartbreaking pain of these victims, crying out in the sky, was long ignored, kept silent or silenced. But their indignation was more powerful than any measures designed to silence it, or even resolve it through decisions that increased its seriousness by falling into complicity. The Lord heard that call and showed us again on which side he is standing. Mary's song is not mistaken and continues quietly in the course of history. For the Lord remembers the promise he made to our fathers: "He hath scattered the proud in their conceit, he hath cast down the strong of their thrones, and hath gone out to the poor, he hath filled the hungry with good things, and the rich has he sent away empty "(Luke 1: 51-53). We feel ashamed when we realize that our way of life has denied and continues to deny the words we recite.
With shame and repentance, we recognize as an ecclesial community that we were not where we should have been, that we did not act in time and were aware of the extent and severity of the damage inflicted on so many lives. We did not care for the little ones; we have left them. I make my own words of the then Cardinal Ratzinger when he wrote on the Way of the Cross for Good Friday 2005, he identified with the cry of pain from so many victims and exclaimed: "How much filth there is in the Church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, should fully belong to it [CHRIST]! How proud, how much smugness! The betrayal of Christ by His disciples, their unworthy reception of his body and blood, is certainly the greatest distress that the Savior has to endure; it pierces his heart. We can only call to Him from the depths of our hearts: Kyrie eleison – Lord, save us! (compare Mt 8:25) "(Ninth station).
2. … all suffer together
The magnitude and seriousness of everything that has happened requires that we master this reality in a comprehensive and common way. Although it is important and necessary on every journey of conversion to acknowledge the truth of what has happened, this is not enough in itself. Today we are being challenged as the People of God to accept the pain of our brothers and sisters injured in their flesh and spirit. If in the past the reaction was one of omission, then today we want solidarity, in the deepest and most challenging sense, to become our way of forging current and future history. And this in an environment where conflicts, tensions and especially the victims of any abuse can come across an outstretched hand to protect them and save them from their pain (see Evangelii Gaudium, 228). Such solidarity requires that we, in turn, judge everything that endangers the integrity of a person. A solidarity that calls us to fight all forms of corruption, especially spiritual corruption. The latter is "a comfortable and self-satisfied form of blindness, everything seems acceptable: deceit, slander, selfishness 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). The admonition of Paul to suffer among those who suffer is the best antidote to all our attempts to repeat Cain's words: "Am I my brother's keeper?" (Gen 4,9).
I am aware of the effort and work done in different parts of the world to find the necessary means to ensure the safety and protection of the integrity of children and vulnerable adults, as well as the implementation of zero tolerance and ways of those who commit or disguise these crimes are responsible. We have been delayed in applying these actions and sanctions that are so necessary, but I am sure they will help to ensure a greater culture of care in the present and the future.
Together with these efforts, all the baptized must feel involved in the church and social change that we so badly need. This change requires a personal and communal conversion that shows us things as the Lord does. For as John Paul II liked to say: "If we have really started again from the contemplation of Christ, we must learn to see him especially in the eyes of those with whom he wanted 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 this, prayer and penance will help. I invite the whole holy believing people of God for a penance of prayer and fasting, according to the Lord's command. This can awaken our conscience and awaken our solidarity and dedication to a culture of care that "never again" says to any abuse.
It is impossible to think of a conversion of our activity as a church that does not include the active participation of all members of God's people. In fact, when we have tried to replace, silence, ignore or reduce the People of God to small elites, we ultimately create communities, projects, theological approaches, spiritualities and structures without roots, without memory, without faces, without bodies and ultimately, without lives. This is clearly seen in a curious way to understand the authority of the Church, which is common in many communities where sexual abuse and abuse of power and conscience have taken place. That is the case with klerikalism, an approach that "not only destroys the character of Christians, but also tends to reduce and undervalue the baptisms that the Holy Spirit has placed in the hearts of our people". Clericalism, whether promoted by priests themselves or by laymen, leads to an excision in the church body that supports and helps to perpetuate many of the evils that we condemn today. To say "no" to abuse is to expressly say "no" to all forms of klerikalism.
It is always useful to remember that "in the history of salvation the Lord has saved one people, we are never completely ourselves unless we belong to a people." That is why no one as a single person is saved alone. "On the contrary, God draws us to and taking into account the complex tissue of interpersonal relationships in the human community, God wanted to enter the life and history of a people "(Gaudete et Exsultate, 6). Therefore, the only way we must respond to this evil that has obscured so many lives is to experience it as a task with regard to all of us as the People of God. This awareness of being part of a people and a shared history will enable us to recognize our past sins and past mistakes with a penitential openness that allows us to be renewed from within. Without the active participation of all members of the Church, everything that is 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 who beg forgiveness and the grace of shame and repentance. In this way we come up with actions that can generate resources that are attuned to the gospel. For "every time we make an effort to return to the source and restore the original freshness of the gospel, new paths, new paths of creativity, with different forms of expression, more eloquent signs and words with a new meaning for the world today "(Evangelii Gaudium, 11).
It is essential that we as a church are able to recognize and condemn the atrocities committed by sorrow and shame, committed by devoted persons, clergy and all who are charged with the task of being watchful for the most vulnerable. Let us beg for forgiveness for our own sins and the sins of others. A sense of sin helps us to recognize the mistakes, crimes and wounds caused in the past and enables us to be more open in the present and to be committed to a journey of renewed conversion.
Similarly, penance and prayer will help us open our eyes and our hearts to the suffering of other people and overcome the thirst for power and possessions that are so often the cause of that evil. May fasting and praying open our ears to the quiet pain of children, youth and the disabled. A fast that can make us hungry and thirsty for righteousness and incites us to walk around in the truth and to support all the necessary legal measures. A fast that shakes us awake and leads us to be sincere and charitable with all men and women of good will, and with society in general, to combat all forms of abuse of power, sexual abuse and abuse of conscience.
In this way we can clearly show our vocation as "a sign and instrument of communion with God and of the unity of the whole human race" (Lumen Gentium, 1).
"If one member suffers, all people suffer together," said Saint Paul. Through an attitude of prayer and penance, we will be attuned to this admonition as individuals and as a community, so that we can grow in the gift of compassion, in justice, prevention and recovery. Mary chose to stand at the foot of her Son's cross. She did so without hesitation and stood firmly next to Jesus. In this way she reveals how she lived her whole life. When we experience the desolation caused by these ecclesiastical wounds, we do well, with Mary, "to be more on the prayer", and we try to grow more in love and loyalty to the Church (SAINT IGNATIUS OF LOYOLA, Spiritual Exercises, 319). She, the first of the disciples, teaches us all as disciples how to stop for the suffering of the innocent, without apologies or cowardice. Looking at Mary is the model of discovering a true follower of Christ.
May the Holy Spirit give us the grace of repentance and the inner anointing needed to courageously fight our deception and our decision before these crimes of abuse.
Vatican City, August 20, 2018