UPDATED: Pope meets sex abuse victims, says clergy actions cloaked in complicity
(CNS photo/Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters)
By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Asking for forgiveness, Pope Francis told abuse survivors that "despicable actions" caused by clergy have been hidden for too long and had been "camouflaged with a complicity that cannot be explained."
"There is no place in the church's ministry for those who commit these abuses, and I commit myself not to tolerate harm done to a minor by any individual, whether a cleric or not," and to hold all bishops accountable for protecting young people, the pope said during a special early morning Mass for six survivors of abuse by clergy. The Mass and private meetings held later with each individual took place in the Domus Sanctae Marthae -- the pope's residence and a Vatican guesthouse where the survivors also stayed.
In a lengthy homily in Spanish July 7, the pope thanked the three men and three women -- two each from Ireland, the United Kingdom and Germany -- for coming to the Vatican to meet with him. The Vatican provided its own translations of the unscripted homily.
The pope praised their courage for speaking out about their abuse, saying that telling the truth "was a service of love, since for us it shed light on a terrible darkness in the life of the church."
The pope said the scandal of abuse caused him "deep pain and suffering. So much time hidden, camouflaged with a complicity that cannot be explained."
He called sex abuse a "crime and grave sin," that was made even worse when carried out by clergy.
"This is what causes me distress and pain at the fact that some priests and bishops, by sexually abusing minors" violated the innocence of children and their own vocation to God, he said.
"It is something more than despicable actions. It is like a sacrilegious cult, because these boys and girls had been entrusted to the priestly charism in order to be brought to God. And those people sacrificed them to the idol of concupiscence," the pope said.
He begged for forgiveness "for the sins of omission on the part of the church leaders who did not respond adequately to reports of abuse," adding that the neglect not only caused the victims more suffering, "it endangered other minors who were at risk."
The pope asked God "for the grace to weep, the grace for the church to weep and make reparations for her sons and daughters who betrayed their mission, who abused innocent persons" and left life-long scars.
He told the men and women sitting in the pews that God loved them and he prayed that "the remnants of the darkness which touched you may be healed."
In an effort to help the abuse survivors heal, the pope met individually with each one, accompanied by a loved one or family member and a translator, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, told journalists.
The pope spent a total of three hours and twenty minutes in closed-door talks with each person, Father Lombardi said.
The Jesuit priest said the men and women were visibly moved by the Mass and meetings and had "felt listened to," and that the encounter was "something positive on their journey" of healing.
The length and nature of the pope's very first meeting with abuse survivors represent "a sign, a model, an example" for the rest of the church, that "listening is needed" along with tangible efforts for understanding and reconciliation, he said.
Responding to critics that the July 7 meeting and Mass were ineffectual and part of a publicity stunt, Father Lombardi said that if people had been able to see, as he had, the reactions of the men and women who took part in the private gathering, "it was clear that it was absolutely not a public relations event."
The raw emotion on people's faces, including the pope's, as well as his strongly worded homily, all showed the effort had been about "a dialogue with a pastor and father who tries to understand deeply" the wrongs that have been committed and the need "to be honest about reality," the Vatican spokesman said.
It was the first time Pope Francis met directly with a group of victims of clerical abuse, following a tradition begun by his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, who met with victims for the first time as pope in 2008 during a visit to Washington, D.C. The retired pope subsequently met with other victims during his pastoral visits to Sydney, Malta, Great Britain and Germany.
Pope Francis asked Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley of Boston -- the head of a new Vatican commission on protecting minors -- to help organize the early July encounter.
The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, which the pope established in December, met July 6 at the Vatican. They discussed expanding the number of members, especially from Africa and Asia, before the next meeting in October, Father Lombardi said. The commission also said it was necessary to set up a permanent and staffed "working office" at the Vatican, he said.
The commission, which currently has eight members, including a survivor of clerical sex abuse, mental health professionals and experts in civil and church law, is tasked with laying out a pastoral approach to helping victims and preventing abuse.
In his homily, the pope said he was looking to the commission to help the church "develop better policies and procedures" for protecting minors.
"We will continue to exercise vigilance in priestly formation," the pope told the victims, and "we need to do everything in our power to ensure that these sins have no place in the church."
Just as Jesus told Peter to feed his sheep, the pope said, "I would add, 'Let no wolf enter the sheepfold.'"
The following is the Vatican's English translation of the homily Pope Francis gave in Spanish July 7 during a Mass with victims of clerical sexual abuse:
"The scene where Peter sees Jesus emerge after a terrible interrogation.... Peter whose eyes meet the gaze of Jesus and weeps.... This scene comes to my mind as I look at you, and think of so many men and women, boys and girls. I feel the gaze of Jesus and I ask for the grace to weep, the grace for the church to weep and make reparation for her sons and daughters who betrayed their mission, who abused innocent persons. Today, I am very grateful to you for having traveled so far to come here.
"For some time now I have felt in my heart deep pain and suffering. So much time hidden, camouflaged with a complicity that cannot be explained until someone realized that Jesus was looking and others the same ... and they set about to sustain that gaze.
"And those few who began to weep have touched our conscience for this crime and grave sin. This is what causes me distress and pain at the fact that some priests and bishops, by sexually abusing minors, violated their innocence and their own priestly vocation. It is something more than despicable actions. It is like a sacrilegious cult, because these boys and girls had been entrusted to the priestly charism in order to be brought to God. And those people sacrificed them to the idol of their own concupiscence. They profane the very image of God in whose likeness we were created. Childhood, as we all know, young hearts, so open and trusting, have their own way of understanding the mysteries of God's love and are eager to grow in the faith. Today the heart of the church looks into the eyes of Jesus in these boys and girls and wants to weep; she asks the grace to weep before the execrable acts of abuse which have left life-long scars.
"I know that these wounds are a source of deep and often unrelenting emotional and spiritual pain, and even despair. Many of those who have suffered in this way have also sought relief in the path of addiction. Others have experienced difficulties in significant relationships, with parents, spouses and children. Suffering in families has been especially grave, since the damage provoked by abuse affects these vital family relationships.
"Some have even had to deal with the terrible tragedy of the death of a loved one by suicide. The deaths of these so beloved children of God weigh upon the heart and my conscience and that of the whole church. To these families I express my heartfelt love and sorrow. Jesus, tortured and interrogated with passionate hatred, is taken to another place and he looks out. He looks out upon one of his own torturers, the one who denied him, and he makes him weep. Let us implore this grace together with that of making amends.
"Sins of clerical sexual abuse against minors have a toxic effect on faith and hope in God. Some of you have held fast to faith, while for others the experience of betrayal and abandonment has led to a weakening of faith in God. Your presence here speaks of the miracle of hope, which prevails against the deepest darkness. Surely it is a sign of God's mercy that today we have this opportunity to encounter one another, to adore God, to look in one another's eyes and seek the grace of reconciliation.
"Before God and his people I express my sorrow for the sins and grave crimes of clerical sexual abuse committed against you. And I humbly ask forgiveness.
"I beg your forgiveness, too, for the sins of omission on the part of church leaders who did not respond adequately to reports of abuse made by family members, as well as by abuse victims themselves. This led to even greater suffering on the part of those who were abused and it endangered other minors who were at risk.
"On the other hand, the courage that you and others have shown by speaking up, by telling the truth, was a service of love, since for us it shed light on a terrible darkness in the life of the church. There is no place in the church's ministry for those who commit these abuses, and I commit myself not to tolerate harm done to a minor by any individual, whether a cleric or not. All bishops must carry out their pastoral ministry with the utmost care in order to help foster the protection of minors, and they will be held accountable.
"What Jesus says about those who cause scandal applies to all of us: the millstone and the sea (cf. Mt 18:6).
"By the same token we will continue to exercise vigilance in priestly formation. I am counting on the members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, all minors, whatever religion they belong to, they are little flowers which God looks lovingly upon.
"I ask this support so as to help me ensure that we develop better policies and procedures in the universal church for the protection of minors and for the training of church personnel in implementing those policies and procedures. We need to do everything in our power to ensure that these sins have no place in the church.
"Dear brothers and sisters, because we are all members of God's family, we are called to live lives shaped by mercy. The Lord Jesus, our Savior, is the supreme example of this; though innocent, he took our sins upon himself on the cross. To be reconciled is the very essence of our shared identity as followers of Jesus Christ. By turning back to him, accompanied by our most holy Mother, who stood sorrowing at the foot of the cross, let us seek the grace of reconciliation with the entire people of God. The loving intercession of Our Lady of Tender Mercy is an unfailing source of help in the process of our healing.
"You and all those who were abused by clergy are loved by God. I pray that the remnants of the darkness which touched you may be healed by the embrace of the Child Jesus and that the harm which was done to you will give way to renewed faith and joy.
"I am grateful for this meeting. And please pray for me, so that the eyes of my heart will always clearly see the path of merciful love, and that God will grant me the courage to persevere on this path for the good of all children and young people. Jesus comes forth from an unjust trial, from a cruel interrogation and he looks in the eyes of Peter, and Peter weeps. We ask that he look at us and that we allow ourselves to be looked upon and to weep and that he give us the grace to be ashamed, so that, like Peter, forty days later, we can reply: 'You know that I love you'; and hear him say: 'Go back and feed my sheep' -- and I would add -- 'Let no wolf enter the sheepfold.'"