There have been reports of members of the Catholic clergy abusing their positions of authority to engage in sexual misconduct with vulnerable young members of their flocks for decades. But recently, there have been a flurry of new reports of abuse — and cover-ups of that abuse by the Church — and now, Pope Francis himself has addressed the allegations of “atrocities” committed by members of the clergy.
The Pope admitted that abuse within the Church is a serious problem, and called for “prayer and penance” from the entire Church in response.
In a “Letter to the People of God” shared in its entirety by Vatican News, Pope Francis quoted Saint Paul in 1 Cor. 12:26, writing of the alleged abuse: “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it.”
“Atrocities” left “deep wounds”
In his letter, the Pope acknowledged “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” over the years.
He also acknowledged the “deep wounds” such crimes have left on victims and their families, and noted that there was no sufficient way in which to beg forgiveness or repair the damage that had been wrought. Instead, he sought to help create a new culture in the Church that would both prevent future instances of abuse and prevent the Church from covering up such criminal behavior.
“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 Pope wrote. “The heart-wrenching pain of these victims, which cries out to heaven, was long ignored, kept quiet or silenced.”
He went on: “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.”
Prayer and penance
The Pope also mentioned ongoing efforts poised to devise new ways to “ensure the safety and protection of the integrity of children and of vulnerable adults” and promised to have “zero tolerance” toward those who violate the young.
He also apologized for the delay in implementing such reformatory measures.
He then called on the whole of the Church, from the highest ranks of the clergy to the lowest layperson, to devote themselves to a “penitential exercise of prayer and fasting” such that the Church could stand together against such abuse in solidarity so such abuse and cover-ups would “never again” happen.
“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,” he wrote. “Let us beg forgiveness for our own sins and the sins of others.”
Pope Francis more or less confessed that the Church has been aware of and covered up the sexual abuse of minors by members of the clergy, but he admitted the grievous sins were wrong and must be addressed head on.
Whether his call for fasting and prayer as a form of penance from the entire Church will prove sufficient to ensure such crimes don’t continue going forward remains to be seen.