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.

Vatican City, 20 August 2018

 

Trudeau asks Pope Francis to apologise for schools

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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has asked Pope Francis to apologise for the role of the Catholic Church in a Canadian school system where indigenous children were abused for decades.

The PM met the pontiff at the Vatican on Monday as part of his trip to Italy for the G7 summit.

The residential schools were set up from the 1880s to take children from their families and assimilate them into mainstream Canadian society.

The last one closed in 1996.

“I told him how important it is for Canadians to move forward on real reconciliation with the indigenous peoples and I highlighted how he could help by issuing an apology,” Mr Trudeau told reporters after meeting the pope.

He said he had invited the pontiff to make the apology in Canada.

Some 150,000 aboriginal children were forcibly removed from their families, and sent to live in church-run boarding schools where they were forbidden to speak their language or practise their own culture.

Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission has called for a papal apology, as part of the healing process for survivors.

Although the Vatican has not commented on Mr Trudeau’s request, it confirmed the talk was “cordial” and lasted about 36 minutes. It said the conversation “focused on the themes of integration and reconciliation, as well as religious freedom and current ethical issues” but did not mention an apology directly.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which has been tasked with collecting the stories of survivors and recommending a way forward for the country to heal, has called the residential school system “cultural genocide”.

In its report, the commission recommended the Catholic Church issue a formal apology for its part in the residential school system.

Similar apologies have been issued by Anglican, Presbyterian and United Churches, who along with the Catholic Church helped run these schools as joint ventures with the Canadian government.

In 2008, former prime minister Stephen Harper issued an apology on behalf of Canadians, calling it “a sad chapter in our history”.

A year later, Pope Benedict expressed “his sorrow at the anguish caused by the deplorable conduct of some members of the Church” to a delegation from the Assembly of First Nations, a national advocacy organization, who went to the Vatican.

In 2015, Mr Harper met Pope Francis and called attention to the commission’s findings.

Mr Trudeau said he also spoke with the Pope about a subject dear to both of them: the importance of stopping climate change.

“We talked about how important it is to highlight the scientific basis of protecting our planet and the moral and ethical obligations to lead, to build a better future for all people on this earth,” Mr Trudeau said.

During the visit to the Vatican, Mr Trudeau was joined by his wife Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau. While in Italy, he also visited the Roma football club and will meet Italy’s prime minister and president.

Is Pope Francis campaigning for married priests?

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Just weeks after the conclusion of the Year of Mercy, life for gay seminarians and priests in the Catholic church took a turn toward the merciless.

As was widely reported last week, Pope Francis approved a document called “The Gift of the Priestly Vocation,” which bans gay men from seminaries and ordination.

Or, at least, most gay men. The document states,

“…the Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called ‘gay culture.’”

Though the Vatican leaves to the imagination what precisely the “so-called ‘gay culture’ might be, the guidelines suggest that gay seminarians who act like straight guys, conceal their sexualities, repress their sexual desires, and oppose any campaign for LGBT rights might be given a small window of clerical opportunity.

The guidelines further note that “such persons in fact, find themselves in a situation that gravely hinders them from relating correctly to men and women,” and, therefore, “one must in no way overlook the negative consequences that can derive from the ordination of persons with deep-seated homosexual tendencies.”

If the church does have “profound respect” for these men, it has a twisted way of showing it.

Less publicized last week was the homily that Pope Francis’ gave at Casa Santa Marta Dec. 9, the day after the release of “The Gift of the Priestly Vocation.”

Though Francis intended to use his message to critique “worldly and rigid priests,” a homophobic, misogynist anecdote in his text seemed to amplify the previous day’s barring of gay men from ordination.

According to Vatican Radio, the pope said:

“About rigidity and worldliness, it was some time ago that an elderly monsignor of the curia came to me, who works, a normal man, a good man, in love with Jesus — and he told me that he had gone to buy a couple of shirts at Euroclero [the clerical clothing store] and saw a young fellow — he thinks he had not more than 25 years, or a young priest or about to become a priest — before the mirror, with a cape, large, wide, velvet, with a silver chain. He then took the Saturno [wide-brimmed clerical headgear], he put it on and looked himself over. A rigid and worldly one. And that priest — he is wise, that monsignor, very wise — was able to overcome the pain, with a line of healthy humor and added: ‘And it is said that the Church does not allow women priests!’”

Francis describes the elderly monsignor as a “normal man, a good man” perhaps as a counterpoint to the abnormal, dandyish young man dressing in the mirror. The elderly monsignor is “in love with Jesus” — the only man, apparently, that a priest should ever fall in love with.

The monsignor is so agonized by this preening young cleric, Francis says, that the only way to alleviate his pain is to make a joke. Sadly, this “healthy dose of humor” amounts to one contemptuous punch line aimed at ridiculing the two gravest threats to the Roman Catholic priesthood: women and gay men.

If Pope Francis were simply commenting on the way in which the young man’s prideful posing was a demonstration of the corrupting power of clericalism, his lesson might be worthwhile. But by repeating a joke that mocks the man’s sexuality and belittles the struggle for women’s equality in the church, the pope reveals a disturbing resentment of women and gay men who seek to serve the church in ordained ministry.

The elderly monsignor’s punch line is as homophobic as it is misogynist. It characterizes female behavior as vain and affected. Worst of all, it suggests that the best way to demean a man is to liken him to a woman.

How ironic that Pope Francis uses such a humiliating story to call for humility, and takes such a judgmental tone as he denounces rigidity. How strange that he criticizes a pretentious, worldly young priest by promoting an elite, exclusionary vision of the priesthood.

Though some might argue that the Francis’ joke was just another one of his off-the-cuff remarks, many signs indicate that a more calculated campaign may be afoot.

It’s interesting to note that, in this same homily, Francis claims that we can know “what kind of priest a man was by the attitude they [have] with children.”

“If they knew how to caress a child, to smile at a child, to play with a child . . . it means that they know this means lowering oneself, getting close to the little things,” Francis says.

Is his homily suggesting that heterosexual men and fathers make the best priests?

The pope has never been shy about praising the holiness of the heterosexual family unit. He has called the family the “masterwork of society,” and frequently reminds us that Jesus “begins his miracles with this masterwork, in a marriage, in a wedding feast: a man and a woman.”

In the past six weeks, Francis has made his vision of the priesthood starkly clear. On Nov. 1, he confirmed the finality of the ban on ordaining women, and now he has reaffirmed the ban on most gay seminarians.

All of these clues lead one to wonder whether Francis is preparing the faithful for a new model of the priesthood: one in which young, married men may become candidates for ordination.

Many have lamented the pope’s ban on gay seminarians as a betrayal of his legendary “Who am I to judge?” statement. But perhaps Francis has a much larger agenda at work, and his desperate need to fill the priesthood is taking priority of whatever desire he may have had to be kinder to gays.

Perhaps the movement to push out gay seminarians is part of a concerted effort to make seminary life straighter and manlier for a new crop of hetero hopefuls.

Francis has given clear indications that he is receptive to a conversation about married priests.

This past August, Vatican insider Austen Ivereigh penned an essay declaring: “Next synod likely to focus on ordaining married men.”

Ivereigh cites examples in South Africa and Honduras where teams of married men with families were chosen by their communities to minister part-time while continuing to work in their professions.

“Francis has given many signals of his willingness to open up the question of ordaining married men, even encouraging local Churches to put forward proposals,” Ivereigh wrote.

Some theologians argue that the shift to a married priesthood is relatively simple. Unlike the church’s ban on women’s ordination and same-sex relationships, which are held as “doctrines,” the celibacy teaching is considered a “discipline,” and, therefore, easier to change.

The institutional church has much to gain in instituting a married priesthood. Obviously it would stave off the looming crisis of the priest shortage.

It may also serve as a tool for evangelization and promotion of family, since a priest and his wife would model the gender complementing roles frequently praised by Pope Francis. The husband would be both the father of the parish and the family, and his wife would be the serving, nurturing mother.

It might bring back into the fold all of those heterosexual families who care less about justice for women and LGBT people and more about having a relatable priest who is a husband and father.

The shift would certainly inspire wealthy donors who fund causes that seek to defeat same-sex marriage. They might see married priests as a beacon family values and “traditional marriage.”

Many Catholics often complain that our young, celibate seminarians are very conservative. But they should be warned that there are plenty of young, heterosexual, conservative Catholic men with equally conservative wives who are willing to join the priesthood. And they would gladly vow to uphold the church’s teachings on women, gender complementarity, LGBT issues and even contraception.

If the pope were to begin ordaining married men, most people would immediately laud him as a great changemaker. But when we look at Francis’ reaffirmation of the ban on gay seminarians and women priests, we must wonder whether such a change would truly bring about genuine progress, let alone justice, in our church.

A married priesthood would be a giant leap forward for heterosexual men, but many steps backward for women and gay men who feel called to ordained ministry in their church.

Those who push for a married priesthood must face the reality that they are, wittingly or unwittingly, advocating for the advancement of straight male dominance and privilege in the church. What might seem like an incremental step forward in our church might ultimately create an even more exclusionary priesthood.

[Jamie L. Manson is NCR books editor. She received her Master of Divinity degree from Yale Divinity School, where she studied Catholic theology and sexual ethics. Her email address is jmanson@ncronline.org.]