Pope promises action on abuse -- but what?

It wasn't anything new, exactly, and a lot less than I had speculated he might do, but Pope Benedict's heartfelt words this morning before a sea of 15,000 priests in white albs in St Peter's Square was still pretty powerful stuff. Speaking at the close of the Year of Priests, on the 150th anniversary of the death of the Curé d'Ars, whose chalice he used for the consecration of the wine, he said:

"It was to be expected that this new radiance of the priesthood would not be pleasing to the 'enemy'; he would have rather preferred to see it disappear, so that God would ultimately be driven out of the world. And so it happened that, in this very year of joy for the Sacrament of the priesthood, the sins of priests came to light - particularly the abuse of the little ones. ... We too insistently beg forgiveness from God and from the persons involved, while promising to do everything possible to ensure that such abuse will never occur again; and that in admitting men to priestly ministry and in their formation we will do everything we can to weigh the authenticity of their vocation and make every effort to accompany priests along their journey".

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And he went on:

"Had the Year for Priests been a glorification of our individual human performance, it would have been ruined by these events. But for us what happened was precisely the opposite: we grew in gratitude for God's gift, a gift concealed in 'earthen vessels' which ever anew, even amid human weakness, makes His love concretely present in this world. So let us look upon all that happened as a summons to purification, as a task which we bring to the future and which makes us acknowledge and love all the more the great gift we have received from God. In this way, His gift becomes a commitment to respond to God's courage and humility by our own courage and our own humility".

Benedict XVI is developing a response to the clerical sex abuse which is essentially theological -- discerning its place in God's plan for the purification of the Church. Put simply, the growing awareness of the fragility of the human dimension of the priesthood (the broken vessels) should lead to a greater dependence on its divine dimension. And to the extent that the priesthood has become -- or is in the process of becoming -- less clerical, less "attached" , less about power than service, the clerical sex abuse crisis can be seen as part of Divine Providence -- the way God uses the devastation of sin as a chance for smashing idols and rebuilding on more secure foundations.

Obviously, that's not what the media have been interested in. The calls I have had today from journalists are about what specific actions the Pope appears to be promising. The rumoured "global policy" on abuse, which would effectively extend the US/UK guidelines to the universal Church, has not yet seen the light of day -- ad might never do so, because of the difficulty in legislating what bishops should do in democracies as well as failed or totalitarian states. 

Catholics, as good citizens, are obliged to obey the law of their land; the Church’s own law demands it; and there is little point in Pope Benedict saying so. Instructing all the bishops of the world to report all abuse allegations to the police would not, in any case, guarantee that the allegations were acted on: in some countries of the world, sex abuse of minors is not a crime; in others, the police do not bother to act or require bribing to do so. It is a very “Anglo-Saxon” assumption that alerting the civil authorities results in swift and effective action.  In some countries, a bishop handing the matter over to police would amount to washing his hands of the problem.

But the Pope can still issue a worldwide letter to all bishops insisting that abuse allegations always be acted on, by whatever means is most appropriate; and that inaction is never acceptable. Such a letter would lay siege to the mentality still prevalent in some Churches that the Church's reputation should come before the suffering of an individual victim. Yet the wording of such a letter would need careful crafting for it not to be misinterpreted by a western media which starts from the "Anglo-Saxon" assumption.

Whatever the difficulties, the Pope must continue to face them. He has promised action in the strongest possible terms -- to do "everything possible" to ensure abuse never recurs. It is a bold commitment, that meets the demands of the hour -- even if it is not yet clear how it will be delivered.

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Adam Rasmussen
7 years 6 months ago
I'm glad to see that you're not complaining about the pope's reference to Satan. I, too, am interested to see what the Holy See will do officially to prevent abuse in the future. Making the US/UK statutes canon law could be helpful, but each bishop will still have to put that law into action. The buck stops there, not at the Vatican.
Kate Smith
7 years 6 months ago
So, at America Magazine we can post blogs about the bishops and the pope falling short, but when the words are "Jesuit" and "provincial", not pope and bishop, the Web Editor won't publish the comment now?
 
Being a lawyer, I kept records and saw what showed up and what didn't, and asked questions and took note of who at America Magazine responded and who didn't.
Kate Smith
7 years 6 months ago
I tried to post this on Saturday and earlier today.   I noticed my last comment showed up, so here's the older one:
 
This is a big time for ordinations in the Jesuits.  Thinking about that and this blog post about the pope's conclusion to the year of the priest prompted me to provide an update.
 
 In a comment a few days ago, I shared that the Missouri Jesuits were caught lying again.   I had told them about drinking too much while planning my funeral and vomiting blood for the first time.    The Missouri Jesuits lied and said the talk of blood and death was to threaten them with death - even when the text of what I said clearly demonstrates that is false.    I said in my comment here at America that this fabrication was done so the Missouri Jesuits could avoid taking responsibility.
 
 I mentioned ''taking responsibility'' because Jesuit writers in articles and editorials at America Magazine emphasize the need for bishops to take responsibility in clergy sexual abuse cases.   Jesuits must take responsibility too.  
 
A week passed and I can report back that I was 100% correct.   The Missouri Jesuits never did take responsibility.   I filed a misconduct complaint with Superior General Fr. Nicolas about the lies because there is a written text that makes it easy to prove, and because I have encountered this bad behavior for a year,  ever since I learned that the Missouri Jesuits had allowed an abusive Jesuit back into ministry and sought accountability.
 
 Rather than take responsibility for their mistakes and apologize, the Missouri Jesuits are lying at every opportunity for more than a year, and I can easily prove it, so I tell Fr. Nicolas. 
 
Maybe instead of ordaining new Jesuits, the Jesuits should shut down for a lengthy period of self-examination and penance.   Ignatius stressed the need for self-examination and penance, but Jesuits seem to have strayed.  Pope Benedict recently called for this too.
 
 
Eileen Ford
7 years 6 months ago
It might restore the faith of some Catholics if Benedict asked for the resignations of Bishops who covered up crimes.
Boston's Cardinal Bernard Law resigned but was moved to the Vatican where he still has influence in appointing Bishops.
Five of his staff members covered up crimes and were all promoted and sent to other Dioceses. Two of them are still in positions of power and honor - William Murphy as Bishop of Rockville Centre, Long Island, New York and John McCormack as Bishop of Manchester, New Hampshire.
Bishops in Ireland resigned their positions. American Bishops have never been held accountable.
7 years 6 months ago
"Did you actually expect Christian actions from these guys"?
Mr. McCrea: Isn't the better question this: what do we expect from ourselves? We are called to Reparation for the sins of others. The duty for reparation is always ours to claim in expiation for the sins of our brothers and sisters. Christ implores us...
Kate Smith
7 years 6 months ago
''I think it is absolutely amazing that people actually think that popes and bishops would take accountability for this mess. ''
 
Jim, your words made me think.  I appreciate that.  
 
Over and over, I am finding that the Jesuits do not take responsibility, but other Jesuits write about how the bishops should take responsibility in abuse cases.    There's a hypocrisy there, a disconnect, which is what I am drawn to exposing.
 
In the past year, when I told Jesuits about the bad behavior of Missouri Jesuits, I was told to see Fr. Nicolas.    But Fr. Nicolas completely ignored me.   I was told to contact his US assistant, James Grummer, but Fr. Grummer completely ignored me.   I documented lies and told them, and was ignored.  I documented misconduct and told them, and was ignored.
 
So, I guess my response to you is I will continue to highlight how the Jesuits fail to take responsbility and will look for many other ways to make that known.   If my actions help the Jesuits take responsibility, great, but my focus is on making it known right now.
Jim McCrea
7 years 6 months ago
Maria:  you once again skilfully avoided answering my points.  I was specifically referring to clerical wolves in sheep's clothing.
7 years 6 months ago
"What does God want from us? He wants from us what we mainly want from Him, in one word, mercy. In His providence, He allowed people to sin and thus hurt us, what a mild verb, hurt us, so that we might forgive them and in this way merit God’s mercy for ourselves. What is a blind act of faith to believe that no one, no one has ever done me an injury, no one has ever done me any wrong without God’s mysterious, providential will. God does not want people to sin but He does want me to be merciful whenever people sin against me. Our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, in his masterful encyclical, Dives in Misericordia, Rich in Mercy, defines mercy as love coping with evil. Memorize that, mercy is love coping with evil. Mercy is love, paid the price of love. Mercy is costly love. It is love that loves although it has not been loved. Mercy is love giving to those who have stolen love from us. All of this we believe.

On the first level of our consideration is how God wants us to cooperate with His providence whenever we are the unwilling and innocent victims of other people’s sins. But people may still be causing us pain, maybe for years, they not only were but they are now offending God and at least because we hear or read about their sinful conduct they offend us. What does God expect of us? He expects us to pray and sacrifice for these people so they might stop offending Him and depending on the gravity of their sin, might be converted and be reconciled with their God. It is impossible to exaggerate the practical importance of this reading of divine providence. God wants every sinner to repent and return to His friendship. He wants every priest who has rejected his priesthood and turned his back on Christ to be reconciled with his Master. He wants every religious who has been unfaithful to his or her vowed commitment to make their peace with God. He wants every husband who has sinned against his wife and children to repent and be saved. He wants every woman who has killed her unborn offspring to be converted. Every prostitute to reach heaven. Every thief and murderer to one day see the face of God. He wants the Church’s persecutors, wherever, and in our own country to love the God they are now opposing among the faithful. In a word, God wants sinners to return to the One they offended and finally to save their souls. But all of this means that we must do our part, we must pray and sacrifice in order to obtain from God’s mercy the grace that sinners need, desperately need, to stop sinning and start serving God. They will, they will stop offending God, but I repeat, we must do our part. The more patient we are in bearing the wrongs of others, the more forgiving we are, the more ready we are to pay the price of being maybe deeply agonizingly hurt by a sinner, the more grace God has in store for that sinner. My generosity, my patience in bearing wrong is the divinely ordained condition for obtaining God’s merciful forgiveness even for the worst crimes that people will commit. It is up to us to never count the cost in order to obtain the mercy of God for those who have sinned. And the more deeply we have been hurt, the more agonizingly we have suffered injustice, hear it and don’t forget, the more we hold that sinner’s salvation in our hands. Our patient endurance of suffering is the price that Jesus wants us to pay to bring sinners to that heavenly kingdom reserved only for those who have tasted the mercy of God".
Sin in the Providence of God -John Hardon SJ



Jim McCrea
7 years 6 months ago
I think it is absolutely amazing that people actually think that popes and bishops would take accountability for this mess. 
 
Grow up, folks:  this is a self-perpetuating, self-protecting, self-aggrandizing old boys network that will protect itself no matter what.  The cost of failed faith, failed concern for victims and failure to actually do anything that is binding on bishops throughout the world is a small price for them to pay (in their eyes) in order to maintain the status quo.
 
Did you actually expect Christian actions from these guys?
7 years 6 months ago
I fear the Pope's coments, surely heartfelt, will only engender cynicism in many circles:
Blaming the devil for all the news of sex abuse in the Year of the Priest, while the offenses and coverups have gone on long before and during, strikes one as rationalizing.
Refusing to discuss celibacy as mandatory (not just as charism for some) seems to be another step in "we won't change anything" despite even reasonable calls to reconsider.(The NPR piece yesterday on the continuing clergy shortage problem in France) underscores BXVI's inability to move forward in the world and cling tenaciously instead to a past that is more and more not credible.
Already liberal Catholic groups are unhappy with his call.
Blaming "secularism" for the problem just seems like another easy scapegoat for internal failings.
7 years 6 months ago
I fear the Pope's coments, surely heartfelt, will only engender cynicism in many circles:
Blaming the devil for all the news of sex abuse in the Year of the Priest, while the offenses and coverups have gone on long before and during, strikes one as rationalizing.
Refusing to discuss celibacy as mandatory (not just as charism for some) seems to be another step in "we won't change anything" despite even reasonable calls to reconsider.(The NPR piece yesterday on the continuing clergy shortage problem in France) underscores BXVI's inability to move forward in the world and cling tenaciously instead to a past that is more and more not credible.
Already liberal Catholic groups are unhappy with his call.
Blaming "secularism" for the problem just seems like another easy scapegoat for internal failings.
Kate Smith
7 years 6 months ago
When all the attention is on the pope, I want to point out that Jesuit Superior General Adolfo Nicolas has been nothing more than a staffer and figurehead.   He has never addressed the problem of sexual abuse by Jesuits.   He has never disciplined a Jesuit who engaged in sexual abuse.  He has never disciplined a Jesuit who moved abusers around.  
 
Fr. Nicolas is not even addressing current problems of Jesuits putting abusers back in ministry and not disciplining the Jesuits who do this.   I have very detailed records which i plan to give to the media, which focuses too often on the pope exclusively.
 
In the pages of America magazine, Jesuits talk about the need for bishops and the pope to take responsibility, but Jesuits themselves do not take responsibility.  
Molly Roach
7 years 6 months ago
The evidence points to the reputation of the Church and the privileges of the bishops being the primary reality that is protected.  All else is secondary.  I would be very happy to encounter evidence that contradicts this but so far it is an elaborate version of "Oops, we got caught."   Cynicism would be with the hierarchical side of this equation.  I feel nothing but sorrow.
Judy Jones
7 years 6 months ago
quoted: ''We too insistently beg forgiveness from God and from the persons involved,''
I am pretty certain, that many, many adults who get caught for committing crimes against innocent children, plus those who aided and abetted to their crimes, often ''BEG' for forgiveness, .... as they are being hand cuffed and taken to jail.BUT, I have never heard of a judge or jury that says, ''ok, we accept your apology, so all is well and go off and continue your life'' Criminals can apologize forever, but they will never change their ways unless they are held accountable and they have to serve some kind of punishment or personal loss in order to change.Kids are still very much at risk, and victims are not being treated with compassion and dignity.Judy Jones, SNAP Midwest Associate Director, 636-433-2511 [email protected]://www.snapnetwork.org/
SNAP Network
7 years 6 months ago
''It is a very 'Anglo-Saxon”' assumption that alerting the civil authorities results in swift and effective action.''
I've heard no one make this claim. But secular authorities are cleraly more apt to do what's right and best than church authorities. And the Pope must make that clear.
David Clohessy, Executive Director, SNAP, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, 7234 Arsenal Street, St. Louis MO 63143 (314 566 9790), [email protected], SNAPnetwork.org

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