ROME – In his latest prayer video, Pope Francis dedicated the month of march to praying for victims of abuse, saying simply asking forgiveness is not enough, but the church must put victims first and avoid coverup.
In his video, released March 2, Pope Francis said that in response to abuse cases, specifically abuse committed by members and representatives of the church, “it’s not enough to ask for forgiveness.”
“Asking for forgiveness is necessary, but it is not enough. Asking for forgiveness is good for the victims, but they are the ones who have to be ‘at the center’ of everything,” he said, saying victims’ pain and psychological trauma can only heal “if they find answers – if there are concrete actions to repair the horrors they have suffered and to prevent them from happening again.”
Let us #PrayTogether for those who have suffered because of the wrongs done to them by members of the Church. May they find within the Church herself a concrete response to their pain and suffering. #PrayerIntention #ClickToPray pic.twitter.com/ucuw1lOaI8
— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) March 2, 2023
He also alluded to past coverup of abuse, “The Church cannot try to hide the tragedy of abuse of any kind.”
This also goes for abuse that happens “in families, in clubs, or in other types of institutions,” he said, saying the Catholic Church must set an example in helping to solve the problem and “bring it to light in society and in families.”
“The Church must offer safe spaces for victims to be heard, supported psychologically, and protected,” he said, asking faithful to join him in praying “for those who have suffered because of the wrongs done to them from members of the Church.”
“May they find within the Church herself a concrete response to their pain and suffering,” he said.
The video opens with the image of a dark child’s playroom with pictures of flowers on the wall that are wilting and dying in the shadows, with the pope appearing at his desk in between frames to provide his message. It closes with sunshine breaking through the curtains and filling the room with light, helping the flowers to come back to life.
In recent years and months, countries throughout Europe and all over the world, including France, Spain, Germany, and most recently, Portugal, have all released damning independent reports on their handling of abuse cases going back decades, estimating thousands of abusers and potentially hundreds of thousands of victims.
On Feb. 13, an independent commission investigating clerical sexual abuse in the Portuguese Catholic Church announced that it estimates a total of almost 5,000 victims since 1950, saying these numbers are likely just the “tip of the iceberg.”
Pope Francis is set to visit the Portuguese capital of Lisbon later this year for the international World Youth Day event, which typically draws thousands of young people from across the world.
For Francis, who has defrocked even cardinals credibly accused of abuse, one of the primary challenges in the abuse crisis has not only been dealing with cases as they arise, but the coverup, which remains a work in progress, with many advocates saying new legislation aimed at tackling the problem needs to be more frequently applied.
The abuse of adults by members of the church has also been an issue up-front-and-center for the pope, who despite his insistence that he was not involved, has been questioned over his role in the case of Slovene Father Marko Ivan Rupnik.
A fellow Jesuit, Rupnik is accused of sexually, psychologically and spiritually abusing nearly 30 people, including several nuns. In 2020, Rupnik was briefly excommunicated for using the confessional to absolve a woman with whom he’d had sexual relations, however, Rupnik reportedly repented and that sanction was quickly lifted.
Allegations of sexual assault were made public last year, however, the Vatican said it had reviewed the accusations and ended up tossing out the case, citing a statute of limitations, which they have waived in other cases.
The Jesuit order is conducting their own, internal inquiry which may result in punitive measures, in addition to restrictions already placed on Rupnik’s ministry, while many still question what role Pope Francis may or may not have played in the affair.
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