In letter, pope encourages priests dejected by abuse crisis

Pope Francis uses incense to bless new priests before their ordination Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican May 11, 2014. In a letter addressed to priests around the world Aug. 4, 2019, Pope Francis acknowledged the shame and frustration felt by priests who are discouraged by the actions of fellow clergy members who betrayed the trust of their flock through sexual abuse and abuse of conscience and power. (CNS photo/Stefano Rellandini, Reuters) (May 12, 2014) See POPE-LETTER-PRIESTS Aug. 5, 2019.

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis acknowledged the shame and frustration felt by priests who are discouraged by the actions of fellow clergy members who betrayed the trust of their flock through sexual abuse and abuse of conscience and power.

In a letter addressed to priests around the world Aug. 4, the pope said that many priests have spoken or written to him expressing “their outrage at what happened” and the doubts and fears the sexual abuse crisis has caused.

“Without denying or dismissing the harm caused by some of our brothers, it would be unfair not to express our gratitude to all those priests who faithfully and generously spend their lives in the service of others,” he said.

Commemorating the 160th anniversary of the death of St. John Mary Vianney, patron saint of parish priests, the pope praised those priests who, like their patron, carry out their mission “often without fanfare and at personal cost, amid weariness, infirmity and sorrow.”

However, he also shared his concern that many priests “feel themselves attacked and blamed for crimes they did not commit.”

The revelations of sexual abuse and cover-up by clergy members, he explained, has “been a time of great suffering in the lives of those who experienced such abuse, but also in the lives of their families and of the entire people of God.”

The pope added that priests have not been immune to the pain felt by the faithful and “embody a spiritual fatherhood capable of weeping with those who weep.”

“Countless priests make of their lives a work of mercy in areas or situations that are often hostile, isolated or ignored, even at the risk of their lives,” he said. “I acknowledge and appreciate your courageous and steadfast example; in these times of turbulence, shame and pain, you demonstrate that you have joyfully put your lives on the line for the sake of the Gospel.”

Nevertheless, the pope said, the current crisis is a time of “ecclesial purification” that “makes us realize that without (God) we are simply dust.”

“He is rescuing us from hypocrisy, from the spirituality of appearances. He is breathing forth his spirit in order to restore the beauty of his bride, caught in adultery,” he said. “Our humble repentance, expressed in silent tears before these atrocious sins and the unfathomable grandeur of God’s forgiveness, is the beginning of a renewal of our holiness.”

Pope Francis also encouraged priests to find the strength to persevere while warning them not to succumb into the temptation of despair “amid trials, weakness and the consciousness of our limitations.”

Gratitude for all the ways God has shown love, patience and forgiveness “is always a powerful weapon” that can “renew — and not simply patch up — our life and mission,” he said.

The pope also called on priests to not be tempted by sadness which can turn into a habit and “lead us slowly to accept evil and injustice by quietly telling us: ‘It has always been like this.'”

That sadness, he said, “stifles every effort at change and conversion by sowing resentment and hostility.”

Pope Francis said that by establishing a personal relationship with Christ and the people they serve, priests will “never lose the joy of knowing that we are ‘the sheep of his flock’ and that he is our Lord and shepherd.”

The pain “of so many victims, the pain of the people of God and our own personal pain cannot be for naught,” he said. “Jesus himself has brought this heavy burden to his cross and he now asks us to be renewed in our mission of drawing near to those who suffer, of drawing near without embarrassment to human misery, and indeed to make all these experiences our own, as Eucharist.”

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  1. Tony Broad says

    The Pope talks about “establishing a personal relationship with Christ”. That is a very Protestant sound-bite. Not very Catholic. Catholics have a personal relationship with Christ from baptism, when they become a child of God. And every Mass (or rather every reception of the consecrated Host) we consume the Body and Blood of Christ. You can hardly get a more personal relationship that that! It is quite condescending of Francis to exhort the establishment of a personal relationship to these men who act in persona Christi and confect the Blessed Sacrament on the altar every day. It would have been better for him to conclude his allocution with a hearty mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa for his own personal involvement in sex abuse scandals – instead of using the airy-fairy “outrage at what has happened” out there somewhere not connected with him.

  2. Bruce Jones says

    There is a difference between contemplation and infused contemplation, between acquired morality and infused morality. The infused implies the object is supernatural, namely Almighty God, to whom all worship is due. Acquired is a natural object, rules or habits in the community.
    Catholics have for too long been content with fitting into parochial life without being concerned about the reality of a personal Jesus among them. If you examine the recent Catholic Catechism you will find there is mention of “contemplation” but not “infused contemplation”. This difference should be made known and people seek a risen Christ who from time to time appears to his disciples or makes his presence felt. There is a distinction, and it must be understood properly.
    Pope Francis can speak from experience as the Archbishop of Buenos Aires who directed that the miracle of Buenos Aires be investigated- and like the rest of the miracles of the Eucharist become known. So here then is the personal Jesus he is speaking about. But it goes even deeper. More than mere miracles there is an indwelling sanctifying Holy Spirit who arrives as a personal Jesus is served- as Sr Briege Mckenna OSC has shown in her miraculous recovery, and her book “Miracles do happen”, a must-read for all Catholics, in which she recounts many instances where this personal Jesus touches her life and her inmost being.
    The desert experience is a common feature for religious folk, and priesthood need our prayers, for they have their own challenges and hardships which is overcome when the Divine taps into their lives in an obvious way. Every priest can accept Pope Francis invitation, as the Holy Father of all, particularly priesthood, and in so doing priesthood come to experience the touch of the good Lord as He alone can touch with His Divine love, His immeasurable mercy, immeasurable forgiveness, His immeasurable compassion for all and particularly for those priests who have a calling to continue.
    Jesus is real, not a statue, not just a historical Christ, not just in scripture, but a living presence to be embraced as many times as Catholics can, and particularly in their encounters with the priesthood.

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