Pope Calls for Lay Involvement in Solving Clergy Sex Abuse Disaster

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2018/08/20/pope-calls-for-lay-involvement-in-solving-clergy-sex-abuse-disaster/

Pope Francis released a letter Monday condemning sexual abuse of minors by Roman Catholic priests and bishops and calling for involvement by laypeople to address the problem.

The pope’s letter, which refers to the recently released grand jury report that identified more than 1,000 victims of more than 300 priests in six dioceses in Pennsylvania, does not offer specifics, but denounces clericalism and invites laypeople to join in “uprooting this culture of death.”

He also calls on Catholics everywhere to take part in prayer and fasting as a means of suffering with victims of abuse and making reparations to God for the actions of priest-abusers.

“This can awaken our conscience and arouse our solidarity and commitment to a culture of care that says ‘never again’ to every form of abuse,” Pope Francis writes.

He also acknowledges the repeated failures of Church leaders to protect the vulnerable.

“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,” Pope Francis writes. “We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them.”

The pope joins several bishops who have commented on the crisis recently, including Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston, in calling for a role for laypeople in dealing with the problem.

“It is impossible to think of a conversion of our activity as a Church that does not include the active participation of all the members of God’s People. Indeed, whenever we have tried to replace, or silence, or ignore, or reduce the People of God to small elites, we end up creating communities, projects, theological approaches, spiritualities and structures without roots, without memory, without faces, without bodies and ultimately, without lives,” the pope writes.  “… Clericalism, whether fostered by priests themselves or by lay persons, leads to an excision in the ecclesial body that supports and helps to perpetuate many of the evils that we are condemning today. To say ‘no’ to abuse is to say an emphatic ‘no’ to all forms of clericalism.”

The word “clericalism,” when used in a critical way, refers to overemphasis on the power and dignity of priests and bishops, to the exclusion of laypeople. In Roman Catholic doctrine, bishops are the definers of doctrine and primary teachers of it, and priests are preachers and ministers of the sacraments. In Roman Catholic practice, bishops are also the governors of the Church, subject to the authority of the supreme governor, the pope. But critics of clericalism call for more of a role by laypeople in influencing aspects of Church life.

Pope Francis’s letter refers specifically to administrative disasters in handling abuse by priests, and indirectly refers to the transferring of priest-abusers to new parishes.

In the past popes have acted swiftly to remove from authority bishops who have been found to have personally committed sexual abuse. But most bishops who have covered up abuse by others have been allowed to stay on. In the letter the pope seems to equate the two actions.

“I am conscious of the effort and work being carried out in various parts of the world to come up with the necessary means to ensure the safety and protection of the integrity of children and of vulnerable adults, as well as implementing zero tolerance and ways of making all those who perpetrate or cover up these crimes accountable,” the pope writes.

The pope’s letter does not specifically refer to former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the 88-year-old retired archbishop of Washington, who has been found by Church authorities to have engaged in sexual abuse of teen-age boys and seminarians under his care.

As for the speed in implementing change, the pope writes that “We have delayed in applying these actions and sanctions that are so necessary,” but the letter does not emphasize urgency the way Cardinal O’Malley’s letter released this past Thursday does.

Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Ireland on Saturday, August 25 and Sunday, August 26 to attend the World Meeting of Families there. Clergy sex abuse is dominating pre-event media coverage in Ireland.

Cardinal O’Malley was planning to attend the event but cancelled his trip to oversee an investigation of allegations of sexual misconduct at the archdiocese of Boston’s St. John’s Seminary.