Letter from Pope Francis
Letter from Archbishop Vigneron
Letter of His Holiness Pope Francis
To the People of God
“If one member suffers, all suffer together with it” (1 Corinthians 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. 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. 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”.
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, Aug. 20, 2018
August 13, 2018
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
My prayers today are with the victims of abuse at the hands of clergy worldwide, particularly those represented in the grand jury report in Pennsylvania. The allegations contained in that report, as well as recent allegations of sinful behavior involving former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick – regardless of when and where they happened – are daunting tests of faith for you in the Church, her leadership and our ongoing efforts towards abuse prevention and response.
To begin, be assured that I am one with you in lamenting all of the hurt and pain caused by these moral failures – failures by those who have committed sins against chastity and failures by those who ought to have used their authority to prevent these acts, respond so as to help heal the wounds inflicted, and to ensure that the perpetrators lost their positions of authority. I have met with victim-survivors of sexual abuse and exploitation, and have heard firsthand of the grave harm they have suffered. I continue to pray for them, with confidence that because of the death and rising of Christ, no evil is beyond his healing power.
I acknowledge, too, how disheartening it is for us once again to come face-to-face with moral failures in the priesthood, especially among us bishops. I realize how discouraging it is that we have not decisively overcome these sins after all these years. These sins are marks of shame upon the Church and a great weight impeding the progress we strive so zealously to make in advancing the Lord’s Kingdom. In order to find a graced-ray of guiding light in the gloom, I have returned to the 23 April 2002 address of St. John Paul II to the cardinals of the United States during the height of the abuse crisis. Now, as much as then, these words of this great pope and pastor ring true, and so I share them here:
It must be absolutely clear to the Catholic faithful, and to the wider community, that Bishops and superiors are concerned, above all else, with the spiritual good of souls. People need to know that there is no place in the priesthood and religious life for those who would harm the young.
Shortly after the Holy Father affirmed this principle, the Catholic bishops in the United States joined together to create and implement The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, a set of norms designed to ensure the safety of the most vulnerable in our communities. Today, our Archdiocese of Detroit requires safe environment training programs for clergy, employees, volunteers and children. When allegations of wrongdoing surface, we report them to local police, fully cooperate with their investigations and, in the case of substantiated reports, publicize the names of those accused. In addition, we encourage those who have been abused to come forward, and stress there are no deadlines or restrictions on bringing a complaint to us. Be it five, fifteen, or 50 years later, our dioceses accept and respond to all reports.
This summer’s news reports affirm why we – as bishops, priests, Church representatives and lay people – must be ever vigilant to protect children from abuse and must re-double our efforts of outreach and healing to those most harmed by sexual abuse. I remain fully committed to this goal. We can never become complacent with what has been accomplished.
Similarly, in the light of reports about former Cardinal McCarrick’s sins against chastity, I affirm that priests who try to live a double life by “cheating on the Church” through impure relations with others need to repent or to give up their pastoral office. I am committed to helping all our bishops, priests and deacons cultivate those habits which reinforce their commitments to lives of holiness, and holding them accountable for maintaining the virtue of chastity.
Likewise, I acknowledge that I, too, am accountable for living up to my commitment to celibacy. To that end, it is essential that I adhere to my habits of prayer and asceticism, especially regular Confession and spiritual direction. In standing before Christ’s judgment, I humbly give an accounting for myself, acknowledging my weaknesses and asking for pardon and healing. Were I to lapse in my chastity, I should be corrected not only by those in authority over me, but by any brother or sister who had knowledge of my fall.
My response to those who break their vows of chastity is to resort to the medicine of the Gospel: a call to repentance and renewal, using all the supernatural and natural remedies at our disposal for repairing moral failure. As your bishop, I recommit to preserve and advance the life of celibate chastity in the life of our priests, for their sake and for the good of the whole Christian community. If you cannot trust us, we cannot serve you.
In the course of his remarks in 2002, St. John Paul also called upon us bishops to be clear in teaching the whole of the good news of Christ on matters of sexual morality. He pointed out that this is an essential condition for renewal:
They [the faithful] must know that Bishops and priests are totally committed to the fullness of Catholic truth on matters of sexual morality, a truth as essential to the renewal of the priesthood and the episcopate as it is to the renewal of marriage and family life.
Here, in this address to you, I renew my resolve to be the sort of good shepherd I hear St. John Paul calling for me to be. I owe that not only to you and to the Church, but to Christ himself. The message handed on to us from the apostles about the norms for chaste living is of one piece, an integrated whole. To cover over, not to mention dissenting from, one part of Christ’s vision for chaste living is to weaken every other dimension of that sexual purity Christ demands of his followers. The new Adam is one in all his parts.
Weak teaching about the demands of the Christian life makes it easier for us to lapse into vice, and thus pushes us toward personal and communal shipwreck. While policies and best practices are necessary, we will never be able to create, as T.S. Eliot once put it, “systems so perfect that no one will need to be good.” Nothing can replace the need for each of us to strive for personal holiness in our sexuality. I know this, and am resolved to do my part by my teaching and leading as Christ expects.
This seems to be an appropriate place for me to affirm to you, as part of my accounting of my stewardship of the leadership of our local Church, my endorsement of what Cardinal DiNardo, as the President of our Bishops’ Conference, wrote on 1 August:
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops will pursue the many questions surrounding Archbishop McCarrick’s conduct to the full extent of its authority; and where that authority finds its limits, the Conference will advocate with those who do have the authority. One way or the other, we are determined to find the truth in this matter.
We must give an accounting for the failures that have occurred. While policies and best practices are never substitutes for moral integrity and virtue, they are nonetheless necessary. They do much to protect the vulnerable and to create clarity about what needs to happen when things go wrong. We bishops must look honestly at how this situation unfolded, and I want you to know that I am committed to joining my brother bishops in seeing this work through.
Even with our renewed prayers and support for our dedicated priests and deacons, I note a temptation to despair among some over whether things can change. However, we know that reform can only happen when hope lives. We must move forward with the conviction that God will not abandon his Church. He wants her purified, cleansed of these sins and brought to new life. St. John Paul II concluded his 2002 discourse with these words of encouragement:
We must be confident that this time of trial will bring a purification of the entire Catholic community, a purification that is urgently needed if the Church is to preach more effectively the Gospel of Jesus Christ in all its liberating force. Now you must ensure that where sin increased, grace will all the more abound. So much pain, so much sorrow must lead to a holier priesthood, a holier episcopate, and a holier Church.
By the power of the risen Christ, this hour of darkness is a moment to anticipate the dawn. We are called to cooperate with the Holy Spirit to turn what could deflect us from the work of the new evangelization into an opportunity to proclaim the Lordship of Christ over all sin – yes, even these sins of which we are so painfully aware in these days.
Please pray for me, that I may be a good pastor and that God’s power will be made perfect in the weaknesses and shortcomings I bring to my ministry. Know also that I pray each day for you, that you might find peace and light in these difficult times.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
The Most Reverend Allen H. Vigneron
Archbishop of Detroit