When a crisis personally affects so many, so profoundly, an institutional response just won’t do.
That’s when the top executive, regardless of the organization, must speak out—in unvarnished terms.
A new report reveals the systemic concealment of rampant sex abuse of minors throughout Pennsylvania in the latest scandal—and the worst since 2002—involving sexual misconduct within the Catholic Church.
Abuse complaints were kept in the church’s so-called secret archive and church officials hid incidents, neglected to discipline priests or report them to law enforcement, according to the 1,356-page report.
“Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all,” the report said.
At first, the Vatican issued a formal, rather arid response.
In its first comment since a Pennsylvania grand jury detailed allegations of rampant sexual abuse in parishes across the state for decades, the Vatican on Thursday said it felt “shame and sorrow” and told victims: “The pope is on your side.”
The Vatican chose to wait two days to react to the 1,356-page report, which alleged that 301 “predator priests” abused more than 1,000 children in six of the state’s eight dioceses. Wednesday was the Feast of the Assumption, an important Catholic celebration and a national holiday in Italy.
Pope Francis has struggled to address the sexual abuse scandal that the church has faced for over a decade.
Francis has repeatedly apologized both for decades of abuse by priests around the world and for the church’s past systematic efforts to keep them secret. But his attempts to formalize reform have been hit or miss.
Three years ago, Francis proposed creating a formal tribunal to prosecute bishops who covered up for pedophile priests. But he abandoned the proposal the following year after influential figures in the Vatican’s notoriously stubborn permanent bureaucracy raised legal and procedural objections.
A week later, using his most explicit words yet, the pope has written a letter apologizing for the church’s negligence and complicity.
CNN published the letter, in full. It read, in part:
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).
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.
Some noted what the pope’s letter excludes just as much as it includes:
The Pope’s letter to the People of God: 1. Lays most of the emphasis on caring for victims 2. Spreads the blame to “all of us.” 3. Glosses over egregious episcopal crimes 4. Never mentions homosexuality.
— Fr. Dwight Longenecker (@dlongenecker1) August 20, 2018
In a special letter to the entire People of God released now, Pope Francis apologizes for clergy sexual abuse, and calls the church to a conversion. He does not spell out specific measures or changes.
— Joshua McElwee (@joshjmac) August 20, 2018
Others see the change in language from previous statements to be a crucial step:
Pope Francis’ letter on abuse pointing to clericalism as the root of the problem is a much belated but very welcome shift from John Paul pinning clergy sex abuse on the “mysterium iniquitatis,” the mystery of evil.
— David Gibson (@GibsonWrites) August 20, 2018
Others want a clearer action plan spelled out:
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.
— Marie Collins (@marielco) August 20, 2018
An incredibly disappointing letter from Pope Francis. It’s missing a few paragraphs about holding the Bishops & Cardinals accountable. I had hope after Mass this weekend. Now I’m angry again.
— Linda from HR (@Linda_R98) August 20, 2018
What do you think of this latest message from the Catholic church?