07Mar Pope Francis must meet with victims of abuse

The editors of NCR offer this open letter to Pope Francis:

Dear Pope Francis,

Warmest greetings from the heartland of the United States.

We, like so many others, are taken with your very human and pastoral approach to life’s difficult issues, with your deep compassion that you don’t hesitate to demonstrate and with your insistent exhortation to move out of our comfortable churches and go encounter the rest of humanity, especially those on the margins.

You have become an inspiring and challenging example of genuine humility and authority.

You must feel that the entire world is tugging at your sleeve with endless expectations. So it is only out of a sense of extreme urgency that we seek to intrude on your busy schedule and raise the issue of the sex abuse crisis. In a recent response to an inquiry, you acknowledged that the abuse is awful because it leaves “profound wounds.” Then, you added: “The statistics of the phenomenon of violence against children are staggering, but show clearly that the vast majority of abuse happens in the family setting and neighborhood.” “The Catholic church is maybe the only public institution to have moved with transparency and responsibility. No one else has done more. Yet the church is the only one to be attacked.”

Those statements contain a certain truth, but they also conceal the more difficult truths that have been embedded in this story since NCR began covering this awful chapter of church history in 1985. We claim a certain authority in addressing the issue because we have been investigating and analyzing the scandal for so long. Countless times we have heard the defense that most abuse of children occurs outside the church and that the church has done more than any other institution to become transparent and aggressive in preventing abuse.

The other side of that truth, Your Holiness, is that no other institution on earth had the means or the will to hide as much crime and sin for so long. The reality is that while the incidents of abuse of children are horrific, the larger and more persistent scandal is how many bishops and cardinals hid the sin, paid victims enormous sums of money to stay silent and refused to tell even their fellow bishops and priests of potential problems when they transferred troubled priests.

The church has done probably more than any other institution to institute norms and procedures for preventing abuse in the future. But the other side of that truth is that for decades, church leaders denied that there was any problem, they lied about the numbers of people involved and fought, at enormous expense, disclosure of the dimensions of the problem. Not one of them has yet been held to account. Today there are bishops in place who have betrayed their own conferences’ directions on how to handle abuse cases. If the church is doing more now than any other institution to protect children it is only because of enormous public pressure brought about by victims and others within the church demanding the truth. And the record shows that church leaders can be less than diligent in applying the new standards.

You appeal to us to go to the margins and you have given us examples yourself of what you mean. You have also placed a high value on dialogue, and it is in that spirit that we suggest that among the most marginalized in the church are those who have been abused by priests.

You speak of the “profound wounds” caused in ordinary families by abuse. Those families, we know, will never be whole. Parents and children will never experience the normal depth of love and trust that healthy family life provides.

In the same way, the wounds persist in the church, perhaps even more profoundly and damaging than in other circumstances because the abuse came at the hands of someone who was supposed to represent the deepest spiritual good the community has to offer.

You understandably have little responsibility for what goes on in the wider society, but within the Catholic family you certainly know by now that your example can set powerful precedents. Of all the margins in the world that need attending, none needs your attention more immediately than those whose lives have been shattered by abusive priests.

You called Pope Benedict XVI “courageous” for opening a way for the church to address the sex abuse crisis. Benedict found that courage after he was confronted with what he called “the filth in the church” as he read weekly through the files of priest abusers whose cases came before him as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. As pope, furthermore, Benedict met personally with victims of clergy sex abuse. He heard their stories and knew their pain.

Pope Francis, we urge you to meet with victims of clergy sex abuse.

Last year on Holy Thursday, you shook up and inspired the world by attending to and washing the feet of young prisoners in Rome.

We implore you to turn the world’s focus this Holy Thursday on a healing service for victims of sexual abuse by priests. Listen to their stories. Wash their feet.

Unless this deep wound is attended to in a loving and understanding way — unless the world’s pastor is able to attend compassionately to this horrible injustice within his own family — the wound will only continue to fester and dwarf all the other pastoral and institutional reforms you have initiated.

10 Responses

  1. Shaun

    This letter seems to be trying to make it’s own ‘crisis’ as if it is the case that Francis is dragging his heels or doesn’t want to meet victims of sex abuse or has no interest. I’m sure he will. Give him time.

  2. Fr Patrick McCafferty

    I firmly believe Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, will meet with victims in due course and that he will continue the healing apostolate of Our Emeritus Holy Father, Pope Benedict in this area of immense pain.

  3. Dr Margaret Kennedy

    It is difficult to know why Pope Francis has NOT yet met with victims of clergy sexual abuse. But I’ve a feeling he simply hasn’t broken the mould of ‘thinking’ about us as healers of the Church, but rather more as destroyers of the Church. By declaring recently the catholic church has done more than any other organisation to tackle child abuse he shows the arrogance of that remark. certainly if the Irish safeguarding board has ‘doctored’ audits at the pleas of Bishops then we are still not a transparent church. this hardly speaks of ‘doing more than most organisations’. as for the alleged ‘healing’ by Pope benedict victims of clergy sexual abuse in the UK were rejected by The Papal Nuncio, the Archbishop of Westminster & the safeguarding board from meeting with them after they asked to present Benedict with a ‘book of stories’ when he visited a few years back. instead the catholic hierarchy handpicked ‘loyal catholic victims’ preferring no-one rocked the boat. When Survivorsvoice.org went to Rome, I went too, three years ago we were prevented from going anywhere near the Vatican, St Peters by armed Italian paratroopers. we were about 200 strong! many were deaf victims from Verona. I managed with Brendan Butler to escape the cordon and I in wheelchair was pushed by Brendan Butler got into the precinct of St Peters where we were detained for over an hour and our passports taken. This was the ‘healing’ of Pope Benedict. That’s why with present events such as the ACP calling past abuse ‘mistakes’ and wanting priests who ‘crossed the line’ to continue in ministry I do not believe ‘healing’ will ever come from the Catholic Church. The clerical mind-set is entrenched and victims seen too often as bitter, anti-church, unforgiving, money grabbers.

  4. John

    Christine Buckley who died today was a person who auffered and had courage and spoke out of that personal experience. This not something one can say of many in leadership in the church. Much of what they may cannot be taken seriously as people with real knowledge. A real leader is a person who already is motivated. It seems many of out leaders need their “followers” to motivate them and get them going.

  5. Con Carroll
      A tribute to Christine Buckley

    We as people who are survivors of child abuse
    learned to love ourselves, take ourselves down from the Cross, start living;
    we were no longer to blame;
    we are the stars in the sky,
    Christine:
    your eyes, your tears, your smile, your laughter.
    Slán.
    Thank you.
    Con Carroll

  6. Shaun

    Eternal rest, grant unto her O Lord
    and let perpetual light shine upon her.
    May she rest in peace. Amen.
    May her soul and the souls of all the faithful departed,
    through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
    Amen.

  7. Mary O Vallely

    That is a really lovely tribute to a strong, beautiful and brave woman, Con. I found it very moving especially coming from such a courageous and loving heart as your own.

  8. Kevin Walters

    Dr Margaret Kennedy@3
    Margaret,
    I believe that ‘healing’ will come from the Catholic Church as the truth of this dreadful episode will eventually is dragged out of the papacy. We have Christ promise to Peter “and the gates of Hades will not overpower it”.
    Not one single Bishop was sacked by the last two Popes: why? The conclusion is that you cannot sack one who is doing your bidding…

  9. Shaun

    Kevin, bishops are not middle-managers for the pope. And maybe they acted the way they did out of complete incompetence and non-realisation of their calling. Hirelings act so, not true shepherds. I know there’s more to it than that, but I just wanted to point that out.

  10. Kevin Walters

    Shaun@
    Shaun I agree with you bishops are not middle-managers for the Pope, they relationship is much closer as it is based on trust and this trust is based on the living word of God as defined by his Son Jesus Christ
    I believe that only the Pope appoints bishops and gives them their terms of appointment and only he the Pope can decide to remove a bishop from the leadership of his diocese.
    The simplicity of the flock must be accounted for, church leaders must lead by serving the Truth so as to be clearly understood, it is not possible for the average catholic (I include myself here) and most of mankind to accept that the Pope has no responsibility in regards to those he appoints to care for the flock.
    Shaun your post begs the question, how do we know a true shepherd from a hireling?
    The true shepherd walks (Leads) ahead of flock so that he can be seen by all as an EXAMPLE to follow, like a lamp held high his actions can be seen by all and in contrast to the hireling they cannot be mistaken as his actions exposes their evil. The hireling flees (Hides) in obscurity in the darkness of evil, he cannot seek the truth, as it would expose his own evil; there is no light within him.
    The lamp holder may be flawed (as we all are) but its flame (Truth) shines on itself the holder and all those who would encircle it, asking all of us to do the same, be an EXAMPLE serve the truth in humility, acknowledging our own human frailty and in so doing expose the evil that enslaves mankind, our sinfulness.
    We have a new head shepherd in Rome, in regards to the cover-up of the child abuse scandal, what EXAMPLE is been given, do we see the bright flame of truth or is it obscure?
    Do we see a True Shepherd or a hireling?
    kevin your brother
    In Christ.