VATICAN CITY, August 20, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – Nearly a week after last Tuesday’s scathing Pennsylvania grand jury report exposing 70 years of clergy sex abuse of 1,000 known victims on the part of some 300 priests, Pope Francis responded to the scandal today, stating that “clericalism” was the root cause.
The letter is facing criticism from faithful Catholics for failing to specify any concrete actions he would take to address the crisis, and ignoring the underlying issue of rampant homosexuality in the clergy.
“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,” he stated.
He called clericalism a “peculiar way of understanding the Church’s authority” that is “common in many communities where sexual abuse and the abuse of power and conscience have occurred,” and 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.”
In his letter “to the People of God” (published in full below), the Pope called for collective Church-wide penance, fasting, and prayer as a response.
He did not, however, acknowledge the issue of homosexuality among clergy, offer concrete steps for resolution of the crisis, nor recognize the role bishops have played in the scandal. In fact, the word “bishop” does not appear once in the entire letter.
“It is the Roman Pontiff, the Holy Father, who has the responsibility to discipline these situations,” Burke had said, “and it is he who needs to take action following the procedures that are given in the Church’s discipline. This is what will address the situation effectively.”
The pope called for a “culture” within the Church to prevent sexual abuse being covered up.
“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,” Francis said in the letter.
The Pope said in his letter he was aware of efforts in dioceses worldwide to address clergy sex abuse.
“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,” he said.
The Church has “delayed in applying these actions and sanctions that are so necessary,” the Pope said, “yet I am confident that they will help to guarantee a greater culture of care in the present and future.”
Statistics from the Pennsylvania grand jury report back this as well: Nearly three-quarters of the offending priests were homosexual; over three-quarters of the abusive priests were pederasts and of those, one fifth (21%) chose adolescent girls as their victims while four-fifths (79%) chose adolescent boys.
Last week Brad Miner, Senior Editor of The Catholic Thing, and attorney and international child rights advocate Liz Yore made it clear on EWTN's The World Over that the Catholic Church’s sex abuse crisis is directly linked to homosexuality.
“Largely it’s not a pedophile crisis,” Yore said. “We know from the John Jay report, 81-percent of the victims were males, mostly teens. And we know because our subclass of predators are all male, this is a male-on-male crime, and primarily with teens between the ages of 14 to 17. Those are the victims.”
Miner agreed: “It’s a homosexual problem. The numbers show that.”
The Church continues to reel from the Pennsylvania report, released less than two months after allegations against disgraced former cardinal Theodore McCarrick surfaced of him abusing a minor and various adults – including seminarians and young priests.
Since the recent revelations in the abuse crisis, experts and Catholic laity have called for bishops to be accountable. Laity have called for a long-suspected homosexual network in the Church exerting power over clergy and facilitating abuse cover-up to be rooted out.
Francis promised zero tolerance for clergy sex abusers in 2014 and set up a commission to investigate allegations against priests and care for victims. He spoke out strongly against clergy sex abuse again later that year and again in May 2016, saying abusers should be severely punished. Shortly thereafter, he released an update to the policy for removing bishops suspected of neglecting clerical abuse cases. Pope Francis restated zero tolerance again in January 2017, directing bishops in a letter to “adhere, clearly and faithfully, to ‘zero tolerance'” for sex abuse of minors.
One such case is that of Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels, who was caught on tape attempting to cover up years of abuse involving his close friend and fellow bishop, Roger Vangheluwe, then-Bishop of Bruges. Francis honored Danneels, who was sidelined under Pope Benedict, by having him present with him on the balcony when he first appeared to the world as pope in 2013. Francis also personally chose Danneels to attend the Synod of Family, giving him a special title.
Vatican spokesman Father Thomas Rosica, CSB, endorsed the pope’s declaration of clericalism as a cause of clergy abuse in a release from his Salt and Light Media this morning that stated, “We can only move forward when we name the evil of clericalism.”
“Until the Church at her highest levels names this great evil of clericalism and rids the Church of it, we will not move forward,” stated Rosica, a defender of Jesuit Father James Martin’s LGBT-affirming book, Building a Bridge.
Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich, a Francis-appointee and also a defender of James Martin’s LGBT-affirming message, has also attributed the Church’s sex abuse crisis to clericalism.
Reaction to the Pope’s letter early Monday included surprise at his failure to reference the bishops directly.
“Strikingly, Francis never uses the word 'bishop' in his letter,” a report from Crux on the pope’s statement said, “although the role of some members of the hierarchy in exacerbating the abuse crisis through inaction or outright cover-up has been a central bone of contention for some time.”
Progressive theologian Massimo Faggioli noted the same, stating, “Two words that are significantly absent from pope Francis' letter about the abuse scandal: 'bishops' and 'episcopal.'”
There was ample criticism of the Pope’s letter on Twitter, including this from American Papist blogger Thomas Peters:
“Pope Francis’ statement says nothing about 1) homosexual clergy 2) an investigation into the Vatican 3) calling bishops in particular to prayer and fasting 4) acknowledging the *ongoing* nature of the cover up 5) next steps. Resolve, with no resolutions.”
American Conservative columnist Rod Dreher, who has covered the Church’s abuse scandal extensively, tweeted, “Nice words from Pope Francis, but after all this time, and all these empty promises from the episcopate, what counts now are **deeds**.”
Marie Collins, an abuse survivor and former member of the Pontifical Commission for Protection of Minors tweeted, “A little puzzled by Pope Francis reference in his letter to “work being carried out” in parts of the world to make “those who cover up” accountable. We have been told only the Pope can hold bishops accountable. Sadly nothing as regards a concert plan of action in this letter.”
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.
1 “But this kind [of demon] does not come out except by prayer and fasting” (Mt 17:21).
2 Cf. Letter to the Pilgrim People of God in Chile (31 May 2018).
3 Letter to Cardinal Marc Ouellet, President of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America (19 March 2016).