ROME – In a new letter addressed to the Catholics of Chile, Pope Francis said he’s ashamed for the fact that “we didn’t listen” to victims of clerical sexual abuse, and so “didn’t react on time.” He also thanked victims for their “perseverance” because without it, a process of clean up would not be taking place.
Francis also said that just getting rid of bishops who failed to act is not, in itself, the transformation needed, because “everyone needs to be involved.”
“The entire process of revision and purification that we’re living is possible thanks to the effort and perseverance of concrete people who, even against all hope or discrediting, didn’t tire in their pursuit of truth; I mean the victims of sexual abuse, of power, of authority, and those who, at the time, believed them and accompanied them.”
Francis’s words came in a letter that was made public today later at a press conference in Chile.
It was read by the secretary general of the Chilean bishops’ conference, Bishop Fernando Ramos, and Bishop Juan Ignacio González, recently named president of the National Council for the prevention of abuse and the accompaniment of victims, after his predecessor had to resign due to his slow response to allegations of massive abuse in his own diocese.
“[These are] victims whose cry reached heaven,” Francis wrote. “I would like to, once again, publicly thank them for the courage and perseverance of all of them.”
He also acknowledged that the Catholic Church needs external help to address the issue of clerical sexual abuse: “To pretend that this enterprise depends solely on us, on our strengths and tools, would enclose us in dangerous dynamics” that would “perish in the short term.”
“Let’s allow ourselves to be helped, and let’s help to generate a society where the culture of abuse doesn’t find space to perpetuate itself,” Francis said in his letter, exhorting every Christian to unify to promote “with lucidity, and strategically, a culture of care and protection.”
“One of our main flaws and omissions [is that] we don’t know how to listen to victims,” the pope wrote. “For this reason, partial conclusions were constructed, lacking crucial elements for a healthy and clearer discernment,” he said in the letter read Thursday.
The “never again” in the culture of abuse and cover up that allows it to be perpetuated in time, the pontiff wrote, demands “all to work to generate a culture of care that impregnates the ways we relate, pray, think, and live authority.”
The eight-page letter was signed today, May 31.
“Every time we try to supplant, silence, ignore or reduce the People of God to small elites,” Francis wrote, “we build communities, pastoral plans, theological accents, spiritualities, [and] structures that have no roots, no history, no faces, no memory, no body, in short, no lives.”
Talking about his meetings with Chilean victims, the pontiff said he was able to see clearly that the lack of “recognition [and] listening” to their stories, as well as the lack of acknowledgment from the part of the Church of mistakes and omissions, “prevent us from making progress.”
The recognition owed to the survivors, Francis said, has to be more than “an expression of goodwill.”
The pontiff also wrote that it would be good to “recognize” news media who’ve “assumed the issue of abuse in a responsible way, always looking for the truth, and not making of this painful reality a resource to increase their ratings.”
Francis highlighted the “popular piety” lived in many Chilean communities, calling it an “invaluable treasure and an authentic school where to learn to listen to the heart of our people and in the same act the heart of God.”
Through his pastoral experience, he said, he learned to discover that these spaces of popular piety are one of the few places where the People of God is “sovereign from the influence of the clericalism that constantly tries to control and stop the anointing of God on his people.”
On Friday, a group of nine people, including priests and laity, some victims of clerical sexual abuse and others of abuses of conscience and power, as well as men who for the past 20 years assisted victims of pedophile priest Fernando Karadima will be in the Vatican to meet with Francis.
In the near future, the Vatican announced Thursday, Francis will also be sending two investigators to Chile’s southern diocese of Osorno in a pastoral mission to “advance the process of reparation and healing” for victims in a country that is seeing new scandals come to light almost every day. Osorno is led by Bishop Juan Barros, who’s been accused by victims of covering up for Karadima’s crimes.
Archbishop Charles Scicluna and Monsignor Jordi Bertomeu were already in Chile last February, a trip which produced a 2,300 page document that led to Francis summoning three groups of Chileans to Rome: three lay men sexually abused by Karadima, the entire bishops’ conference, and the group arriving tomorrow.