Revisiting Pope’s letter on abuse

Editorial

With a better idea of the scale of reported alleged abuse in the Catholic Church in this country now public, certain reflex responses can arise.  

“It was a long time ago . . . . “; “It wasn’t us [my group within the Church].”; “Other institutions have done similarly . . . .”, for example. At least the “it’s only a few bad apples. . . .” response can be laid to rest. But reflex responses are not adequate by a long shot. A far better response came from Pope Francis, in his 2018 letter to the People of God on the subject of abuse. It is worth revisiting some of what he wrote, at some length.   

“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.”. . . . 

“We have realised that these wounds never disappear, and that they require us forcefully to condemn these atrocities and join forces in uprooting this culture of death. . . . 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. “. . .  

“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, realising the magnitude and the gravity of the damage done to so many lives. We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them. “. . .  

“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.” . . . 

“Together with those efforts [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], every one of the baptised 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.”. . .  

“. . .  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. . . .  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 Pope had more to say about the penitential dimension of fasting and prayer in this context, and on the blight of clericalism, which has been a factor in all of this. People should read and reread his letter.  

The scale of what happened in Aotearoa New Zealand is now clearer, but even one incident of abuse is one too many. Hopefully, the publication of these figures is another step on the road to justice.  

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Michael Otto

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