Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, has welcomed Pope Francis’s letter to all the faithful addressing the recent sex abuse crises in the Church.
“I am grateful to the Holy Father for his Letter to the People of God, responding to the Pennsylvania grand jury investigation and other revelations that have surfaced,” DiNardo said in a statement released by the bishops’ conference.
“The very fact that he opens the letter with the words of Saint Paul: ‘If one part suffers, all parts suffer with it’ (1 Cor 12:25), shows that he is writing to all of us as a pastor, a pastor who knows how deeply sin destroys lives.”
In his letter, Pope Francis called the universal Church to “a penitential exercise of prayer and fasting.”
Responding to the call, DiNardo said, “I find these words of the Holy Father particularly helpful: ‘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.’ These words must provoke action – especially by the bishops. We bishops need to – and we must – practice with all humility such prayer and penance.”
Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said that the pope’s letter was not just about recent scandals in the Church in America.
“This is about Ireland, this is about the United States, and this is about Chile, but not only [those places],” he told reporters. “Pope Francis has written to the People of God, and that means everyone.”
Burke said that it was especially significant that the pope referred to abuse as “a crime, not only a sin” and that, while asking for forgiveness, he acknowledged that “no effort to repair the damage done will ever be sufficient for victims and survivors” and that the “wounds from abuse never disappear.”
Pope Francis wrote that “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.”
DiNardo acknowledged the need for a sincere and spiritually committed response to the abuse crisis.
“The Holy Father is also inviting, and I am asking this as well, that all the faithful join in prayer and fasting as a way to help foster conversion and genuine change of life wherever it is needed, even in the shepherds of the Church. Jesus remarked once, ‘This kind can only come out through prayer and fasting’; a humble reminder that such acts of faith can move mountains and can even bring about true healing and conversion,” DiNardo said.
The pope also wrote that “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.”
This, Burke told journalists, meant “greater accountability is urgently needed – not only for those who committed these crimes, but also for those who covered them up, which in many cases means bishops.”
DiNardo said that the bishops of the United States accept the urgent need for accountability, and pledged an unflinching approach to addressing past crimes.
“On behalf of my brother bishops, I offer that only by confronting our own failure in the face of crimes against those we are charged to protect can the Church resurrect a culture of life where the culture of death has prevailed.”