AUGUST 20, 2018
DUBLIN — Pope Francis said in a letter released Monday by the Vatican that the Catholic Church has not dealt properly with “crimes” against children and needs to prevent sexual abuses from being “covered up and perpetuated.”
“We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them,” Francis wrote.
The 2,000-word letter addressed to the “People of God” marks one of Francis’s most direct attempts to address the painful abuse cases that have eroded the Roman Catholic Church’s credibility and prompted sharp calls from inside and outside the church for improved accountability.
Francis did not lay out any concrete steps the Vatican would take, but he acknowledged that systemic change is needed.
“Looking ahead to the future, no effort must be spared to create a culture able to prevent such [abuses] from happening, but also to prevent the possibility of their being covered up and perpetuated,” Francis wrote.
The letter was issued after the release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report that documented alleged abuse in the state by more than 300 priests against 1,000 children over seven decades. This weekend, Francis will travel to Ireland, a country scarred by decades of sexual abuse in parishes and in Catholic-run schools. In Dublin, many have demanded that Francis acknowledge during his trip the role that church higher-ups played in silencing victims and helping to keep pedophile priests on the job.
Though the Catholic Church has been dealing for more than three decades with publicly known cases of abuse, new cases in recent months have caused a wave of anger among Catholics, who say the Vatican has been slow to make meaningful reforms.
In his letter, Francis specifically mentioned the Pennsylvania grand jury report, but he did not reference other scandals in the United States, Chile or Australia that have ensnared his papacy.
Francis said the Pennsylvania report reflected “abuse of power and of conscience.”
“The heart-wrenching pain of these victims, which cries out to heaven, was long ignored, kept quiet or silenced,” Francis wrote. “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 U.S. church has also reeled from revelations about Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who resigned last month amid allegations that he abused seminarians and minors. McCarrick was able to climb the church’s hierarchy, becoming one of the U.S. church’s most powerful figures, even after two New Jersey dioceses paid out settlements in response to his alleged misconduct.
The McCarrick allegations, coupled with the report from Pennsylvania, have prompted American bishops to reckon with their failure to deal more forcefully with alleged abusers — whether they are priests or prelates.
One of the leaders whose actions have raised questions is Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, who during a previous posting in Pittsburgh disciplined some accused priests but reassigned others who were under scrutiny to new parishes, according to the grand jury report.
Wuerl has defended his record and said the report shows that he acted “with diligence.” An Archdiocese of Washington spokeswoman said Wuerl has canceled a planned trip this week to Ireland, where he was scheduled to give a keynote speech at the World Meeting of Families.
Last week, American Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the U.S. church should give a wider role to laypeople in holding clerics accountable.
In his letter, Francis said he was aware of efforts in different 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,” Francis wrote, “yet I am confident that they will help to guarantee a greater culture of care in the present and future.”
Francis also criticized the culture of clericalism — which some outsiders say creates a chasm of power between clerics and laity. Francis wrote that clericalism “helps to perpetuate many of the evils that we are condemning today.”
Francis is facing pressure on many fronts, including in Chile, where prosecutors have raided church offices and seized documents in a wide-ranging investigation into sexual abuse and its coverup. On Tuesday, Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati is scheduled to testify under oath about his role in the case.
Massimo Faggioli, a professor of theology and religious studies at Villanova University, said the pope’s letter was “to some extent disappointing” because it lacked specifics.
“I think they are trying to buy some time,” Faggioli said. “But it must be read in the context of something that doesn’t end today.”
Popes have previously written letters on sexual abuse, but they were directed at individual countries — not at the broader Catholic world. In 2010, Pope Benedict XVI, in a letter to the Catholics of Ireland, told victims of abuse and their families that he was “truly sorry” and that the church in Ireland needed to acknowledge the “serious sins committed against defenseless children.”
Earlier this year, Francis sent a letter to the people of Chile describing a culture of “abuse and coverup.” He wrote: “With shame I must say that we did not know how to listen and react in time.”
Courtesy: Washington Post