Our Holy Father Pope Francis took a very unusual step by issuing a Letter to the People of God on August 20. This is not an encyclical letter but rather a personal letter from the Pastor of the Catholic Church to his flock. He wrote this letter in response to the reports of sexual abuse of minors and the abuse of power by some clerics and consecrated persons. The Holy Father calls for the creation of a culture in the Church that will prevent these crimes from happening ever again and from being covered up.
The letter is a bold and much needed teaching to which we must give attention. Sexual abuse by clerics is not a pleasant topic, but it cannot be swept under the table. Recent reports of shameful activities by bishops, priests and deacons cannot be ignored. The victims of these despicable activities have been damaged spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically by some clerics and, furthermore, by the failures of some bishops and superiors to respond to their suffering as Christ would.
As we acknowledge the truth of what happened and endure the pain this brings to the Body of Christ, we must reach out in deep solidarity to the wounded. The Holy Father invites everyone to be involved in a conversion that is so desperately needed by our Church.
Among the topics the Pope references are: the suffering, which does not disappear, endured by many of the victims of sexual abuse; the failures of some church leaders — bishops — to properly report to civic authorities the criminal activity of priest abusers; the need for public repentance of these atrocities by the Church; a resolve to pray and do penance as an expression of combating “all forms of the abuse of power”; a solidarity that takes on the pain of our brothers and sisters and “summons us to fight all forms of corruption.”
The Pope reminds all the People of God that their active participation is essential to the “ecclesial and social change that we so greatly need.” As Saint Paul teaches, “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it” (1Cor.12:26).
I invite you to read Pope Francis’ letter which is reprinted here. Sit quietly with it and allow yourself to respond. You can hear the sorrow of the Pope in these words. You may even weep for the victims of sinful sick clerics. Hopefully, you will also hear the determination and resolution the Holy Father proposes to insist that this horror in our Church be brought to an end and that the Church be rid of abusers.
With sincerity and honesty the Holy Father has reached out to us who are the Church. In our diocese, since 2002 we have addressed this issue with vigor. However, we need to do more to bring about the purification that is needed. With your participation and prayer, may that happen.
Bishop of Camden