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Full text: Pope Francis’ Letter to the People of God

On August 20, 2018, Pope Francis released a letter to the faithful in light of revelations of sexual abuse of minors and adults by members of the clergy in the United States.

Pope Francis prays as he leads a Lenten penance service in early March in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican. (CNS photo/Stefano Rellandini, Reuters)

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.

FRANCIS

Vatican City, 20 August 2018

29 Comments

  1. Words can be beautiful, inspiring. What matters is action. Pope Francis must consider his own actions, appointments beginning with Cardinal Kevin Farrell to the Dicastery for Laity and Family, Fr James Martin SJ as Comm Dir, three cardinals appointed to his nine special cardinal advisers three implicated in sexual abuse scandals themselves. We’ve been down this road previously since 2013 with promises of no tolerance and observed the opposite as in the Fr Inzoli case and in Chile. We’ve heard utterances of self blame and sorrow yet no significant follow up. It’s not simply what the world may think, it’s entrenched homosexual priests and prelates who interpret this as a form of accommodation of their behavior. A wink of the eye. And it’s not enough to request clergy participate in purging the Church. Only he has the authority to initiate an investigation of all documentation and remove prelates. Only he is in position to enforce it. It is his decision to assign prelates like Bishop Morlino, Apostolic Signatura Emeritus Cardinal Burke to lead in this and implement what must be done. It is really his decision to initiate a true inquisition of the entire Church from hierarchy to associate to deacon all in holy orders. Only that will suffice. The Laity are largely disillusioned and have lost trust in us. The Church waits for the radiant purifying light of Christ, or increased Darkness.

  2. An addendum to my comment: I wish to note the Pontiff in his letter does not refer to homosexuality at all. Instead he casts fault on “clericalism”. This seems to parallel the advice of prelates in the PA scandal to use “euphemisms” regarding sexual abuse by clergy. Pope Francis has been critical of clericalism in the past yet never associated it with the sexual abuse of children and young adults. The Roman Pontiff must address this crisis candidly with conviction that it’s homosexual behavior that is the evil we’re confronted with.

    • Fr Peter, thank you for speaking the Truth. It gives me hope that there are priests like you still left in the Church. Homosexuality is and always will be an abomination in the sight of God. He destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because of homosexuality. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. Homosexuality is still a sin and the root sin of this current scandal. The Pope needs to call a spade, a spade. Stop talking and DO something!

  3. I am not seeking to minimize the scandal in the United states, but we have Ireland,where thousands of children were systematically abused in Catholic Institutions by priests, monks and nuns, problems in Chile and Honduras and he only mentions the sex abuse scandal in the United States?

  4. And the missing word is… “homosexual” (and any derivative thereof). What could one expect? Pope Francis cannot be part of the solution, because he is part of the problem. His frequent pronouncements condemning Christians for their “moral rigidity,” his Vatican appointments, his episcopal appointments, his cardinals, his embrace of “transgender” couples… the list of nonsense and betrayals goes on and on. Let him resign, and confine himself to a lifetime of penance and sackcloth, and then I will accept this apology (if that is what it is).

  5. Blah, blah, blah….

    So many meaningless words.

    With shame and repentance…really? Where is any shame or any repeantance in any of the accused bishops or cardinals who knew about this mess and covered it up?

    Also, way to go on including the laity as if we are somehow complicit and responsible for this mess. The one thing we should be held accountable for is not having the courage as the earlier Church for taking bad bishops and throwing them out into the streets.

    Lastly, avoids the majority of the issue and talks as if it was only children who were abused when the majority, again, are young men 13+. The abuse is HOMOSEXUAL PREDATION. Please say that with us Pope Francis and maybe we will take anything you say seriously.

    • Jeremy, my sentiments exactly. Pope Francis has a way of using lots of beautiful language and actually saying nothing of substance. In fact, it’s a very insidious form of obfuscation. Such a politically correct way of dancing around the real problem (homosexual predation) and making us all complicit through our own sinful natures. So disappointing, but not surprising in the least. Thank you for your post.

  6. The Pope’s letter is one more empty rhetoric in a string of denials and heads buried in the sand.

    I did a word find for “homosexual” or “gay”and nowhere does it appear in the letter.

    This letter as far as I am concerned is pretty useless from a Pope who promotes gay friendly bishops and gives a nod to transgenderism.

    Yes, the bishops and priests are a problem. But the problem is at the very top.

    I don’t expect to see reform. The “Reform Pope” is a mirage.

    If you won’t identify the disease, you cannot give the cure.

  7. This pope seems to care as much for the wolves as for his sheep, and his recent changes to the catechism about the death penalty, only reinforces this blindness.

  8. Since the 1960’s we’ve heard “God is love.”. But we’ve translated that to be “God is love without accountability.”. In other words, ‘God loves me even when I am purposefully unaccountable to Him.”. This false notion means we have successfully transformed the God of the Bible into a — dare I say it — ‘touchy-feely’ God of emotion. Heaven forbid.

    Jesus says, If you love me, keep my commandments. That’s an act of the will, not of the heart. There’s nothing warm and fuzzy about obeying the ten commandments.

    I would like to hear the Pope say something like, ‘I will personally hold responsible all the priests and bishops accountable for their reprehensible behavior because in the words of our Savior, ‘Better for him to have had a millstone tied about his neck, and to be cast into the sea, than to have hurt the conscience of one of these little ones.'”
    Matthew 18:6 Luke 17:2.

    In this case, no matter how sorrowful the words of numerous apologies from the hierarchy are, heads of guilty bishops need to roll. This is no time for the Pope to be touchy-feely. He chose to promulgate a letter to all Catholics worldwide. Now he needs to do the tough work of firing those who knew and took no action. That too, will be an act of the will — not of the heart.

  9. Another liberal tempest in a teapot. I was abused when I was young. Stuff happens, no big deal. But liberals want to use it to tear down our society. Is it wrong? Of course and especially so if done by religious. (Mine was a Boy Scout Troop and a neighbor.) Where is the outrage when teachers, doctors, and other “pillars of the community” engage in such acts? Don’t forget the perpetrators are people too, and God loves them as much as you if not more. Remember the parable of the lost sheep?

    • In the UK there has been a lot of anger and outrage regarding secular institutions such as “Children’s homes” in which children were abused.
      But of all institutions the Churches (of all denominations) should be places where such behaviour is seldom if ever found. Perhaps it is a little unfair but in the Churches are not our Popes, Cardinals, Bishops and Priests supposed to be prophets (in the sense of “forth telling”) the love of Christ and the Christian life? as such are they not expected to be “better than average” people?
      Thus their “failings” are a double betrayal not just of the victims but of the Church and her mission itself.
      (I put failings in quotes because I do not believe they are mere failings; rather they are a manifestion of deliberate evil.)

        • If you want a case in point of consider the CofE.
          I call it “the Church of anything goes”. I do not think that it really stands for anything except “inclusivity” and “outreach”.
          The best that can be said about it, IMO, is that it is a moderately effective charitable NGO that does some beneficial social work.
          (Which is not to say that there aren’t men and women of faith within it, both in the Laity and priesthood just that the church institution has lost touch with the Christian message.)

  10. What useless and insulting bloviation from Pope “Who-Am-I-To-Judge?” Bergoglio who has surrounded himself with a cabal of homosexuals and owes his election to the Sankt Gallen mafia of homosexuals and heretics. Imagine a letter on homosexual rape of children that refuses to use the word “homosexual”! Imagine a letter on clerical homosexual child rapists that makes “us”, the powerless and victimized laity, the ones responsible! This is really too much. Bergoglio is not merely a part of the problem. He is the problem. Resign and get out!

  11. How about a “Letter to Catholics”. Francis is always very reluctant to say the word “Catholic”, rarely (ever?) does he use it.
    Francis, how long will you fast? Forty days? Forty minutes?
    And finally, the core issue of homosexual priests, is not mentioned, of course.
    Thanks for nothing, holy father.

  12. Pope Francis owes his election to the most notorious sex abusers and coverup artists in the Church: McCarrick and Danneels.

    Pope Francis IDENTIFIES with these men.

    Pope Francis is part of the culture of sexual corruption:

    He took Danneels OUT of RETIREMENT, a Cardinal who had been retired in DISGRACE for covering up HOMOSEXUAL INCEST (by Bishop Vanderweighe of Belgium) and put Danneels on the balcony with him on Day 1 at St. Peter’s Square.

    Is “the Church of Francis” trying to prove its utter contempt for Jesus Christ?

  13. 1 Corinthians 5

    “Sexual Immorality Must Be Judged
    9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with immoral men;[d] 10 not at all meaning the immoral[e] of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But rather I wrote[f] to you not to associate with any one who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of immorality[g] or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber—not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those outside. “Drive out the wicked person from among you.””

  14. What I find missing here (yet again) is the clear declaration that such behaviours are anathema to the Church and that Clerics proven guilty of such abuse will not be only defrocked but declared excommunicate until such time as the Church has credible evidence that they have truly repented.

  15. Adam, God loves the individual, regardless. But He is just, too. Like the father who loves his own child, regardless, but must issue a punishment for a wrong act. That father is deeply hurt by the child’s behavior. And that leads one to the understanding that our wrong actions deeply hurt our Father in Heaven, especially after His Son “took the bullet for us”.

  16. The Pope mentions this from Ratzingers’s 9th Station reflection “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!”

    Aah, but Pope Benedict was talking then about the homosexual filth in the church.

    I certainly hope he concurs with the Benedict. But his words and actions say otherwise. The same filth has increased during his pontificate no thanks to his very pro-gay agenda.

  17. Indeed, no word about the homosexual predation by 300 priests. No word about the cover up by Cardinals and Bishops. The Pope nominated the Bishops Cupich,Farrell and Tobin
    Cardinals, knowing quite well that they support the homosexual propaganda of Fr James Martin.The Pope seems to like homosexuals. No disrespectful word against them. He owns
    his job to them. He reinstated the abusing homosexual Fr Inzoli in his priestly functions after Pope Benedict had defrocked him a few years earlier. This Pope seems to like homosexuals a bit too much.Last year he appointed three homo-lobbyist priests to the Vatican:Fr Martin, Fr Tolentino and Fr Radcliffe. The Pope is not only part of the problem, he is the problem. He should resign.

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