In a letter to “the pilgrim people of God in Chile” released in Santiago on May 31, Pope Francis called on each of them to become actively involved in their church and society so as to eliminate once and for all “the culture of abuse, and the system of cover-up that allowed it to be perpetuated” and caused such suffering to so many people in their homeland. Francis made clear that he was referring to the triple abuses of power, sex, and conscience, and the cover-up that accompanied them.
“The culture of abuse and cover-up is incompatible with the logic of the Gospel” as are “all those means that go against the freedom and integrity of persons,” Francis stated in an autographed eight-page letter in which he again praised and publicly thanked the Chilean victims of abuse “for their courage and perseverance.” He also thanked those who “believed and assisted them” in their sufferings, some of whom he will meet this weekend.
Pope Francis told Chilean Christians that “the ‘never again’ (‘nunca mas’) to the culture of abuse, as well as to the system of cover-up that permitted it to be perpetuated, demands [of us] to work among all [people] so as to generate a culture of care that permeates our ways of relating to each other, of praying, of thinking, of living authority, [as well as] our customs and language and our relation with power and money.”
“The culture of abuse and cover-up is incompatible with the logic of the Gospel,” the pope wrote.
Today, he said, “we know that the best word we can give in the face of the pain caused is the commitment to a personal, community and social conversion that learns to listen and to care especially for the most vulnerable.” This means, he said, “to create spaces where the culture of abuse and cover-up is not the dominant scheme, and where a critical and questioning attitude is not confused with betrayal.”
It requires the church “to move with humility to seek out all those actors that make up the social reality and to promote instances of dialogue and constructive confrontation so as to move to a culture of care and protection,” he said. But to achieve this, he added, “we must allow ourselves to be helped and to help to create a society where the culture of abuse finds no place to perpetuate itself.”
He alerted them to the fact that “the renewal of the church hierarchy by itself will not generate the transformation that the Holy Spirit pushes us to. It demands that we promote together an ecclesial transformation that involves all of us,” one that will lead to the building of “a prophetic church” that “puts Christ at the center.”
His words appeared to be an allusion to the fact that 31 Chilean bishops in active service in dioceses across the country handed him their resignations earlier this month when they met him in Rome. Today, they, as well as Catholics in Chile, are waiting anxiously for him to announce which resignations he accepts and which bishops he will allow to continue as pastors of their dioceses. He has already made clear, in the document he gave the bishops at the start of the summit meeting, that bishops will be removed, but he did not say when he will announce this. Sources in Rome say he could accept perhaps as many as one-third of the resignations, but nobody knows for sure.
Pope Francis made clear in his letter that he believed that it is necessary to involve the whole church in Chile, and its many institutions as well as its members, in the task of eliminating the culture of abuse and of cover-up and of building once again a prophetic church in that land.
In his letter today, again referring to the victims of abuse, Francis reminded Chilean Catholics that “the whole process of renewal and purification that we are now living is possible thanks to the efforts and perseverance of concrete persons who, also against every hope or attempts at discreditation, never tired of seeking the truth.”
He described the present time as “a time of listening and discernment so as to go to the roots that permitted such atrocities to happen and to be perpetuated, and in this way to find solutions to the scandal of the abuse, not just with strategies of mere containment—which are necessary but not sufficient—but rather with all the measures necessary to deal with the problem in its complexity.”
Francis emphasized that “to discern” the way ahead, which is being indicated by the Spirit of God, and the measures that need to be taken to deal with this grave problem, it is essential “to listen” to reality. He wrote that he believed that “one of our main failures and omissions” consisted in “not knowing how to listen to the victims.” This failure resulted in partial solutions that lacked crucial elements for a healthy and clear discernment, he said. “With shame, I must say we did not know how to listen and react in time,” he stated.
He recalled that the visit of Archbishop Charles Scicluna and Monsignor Jordi Bertomeu came about when he realized that there were situations that “we did not know how to see and hear.” He told them clearly, “as a church we cannot continue ignoring the pain of our brothers.” He said that after reading the report of his envoys, he had wanted to personally meet the victims and ask their pardon “for our sins and omissions.”
Pope Francis made clear in his letter that he believed that it is necessary to involve the whole church in Chile, and its many institutions as well as its members, in the task of eliminating the culture of abuse and of cover-up and of building once again a prophetic church in that land. His letter can be seen as a call to mobilize all the church’s members and its forces to achieve this goal.
He stated that “in the people of God there do not exist Christians of the first, second or third category. Their active participation is not a question of concessions of good will, it is a constitutive [element] of the nature of the church.” He told them that it is “impossible” to envisage a future for the church in Chile without such full participation, in various ways, of all the members of the people of God. He encouraged “all Christians” in that land to “not be afraid to be protagonists of the transformation that is called for today” and to promote “creative alternatives” as the church searches to put what is important at the center of its mission.
He called on “all diocesan organisms” to seek “spaces of communion and participation” to make this possible. He encouraged “all Christians,” especially those who have responsibility for centers of formation or education, for health care centers and universities, to work with the dioceses and civil society to promote “a culture of care and protection” and “a new mentality.”
He invited “all the centers of religious formation, theology faculties, tertiary institutes, seminaries and houses of formation and spirituality” to promote a mature, adult faith that takes on board the feelings of the people of God. He asserted that this is the way to promote communities “that fight against situations of abuse,” ones in which “discussion and confrontation are welcome”; communities that are “open from within, free from closed thinking and self-referential promises that promise life but end up favoring the culture of abuse.”
Speaking from his own pastoral experience, Francis commended the “popular religiosity” that is found in communities throughout Chile as an antidote to the closed groups (he meant such as Karadima’s, though he did not name it) because it is above or free from “the influence of clericalism that seeks always to control and block” the action of the Spirit of God “on his people.”
Francis told “the people of God” in Chile that just as “the failure to recognize” the victims, the abuse and the cover-up were impediments to the church going forward and resulted in great wrong, so too today it would be wrong also to “fail to recognize” the “many faithful lay people, consecrated men and women, priests and bishops who give their life for love in the most remote areas” of the country, and “who know how to cry with the other, who hunger and thirst for justice, and who look and act with mercy.”
At the same time, he said it is necessary for the church and Catholics in Chile to “accept their personal and community limitations” because this can be the starting point “for an authentic process of conversion and transformation.” He recalled that when Jesus rose from the dead “he presented himself to his own with his wounds” and told them that “we too [in the church] are invited not to conceal, hide or coverup our wounds.”
Seeking to encourage believers in Chile, Francis told them that “a wounded church is capable of understanding and being moved by the wounds of the world today, make them her own, suffer them, accompany them and move itself to seek healing.” He asserted that “a church with wounds does not put itself at the center, does not believe it is perfect, does not seek to coverup or conceal its evil, but rather to put it there before the only one who can heal the wounded and who has a name: Jesus Christ.”
This certainty (of being healed by Christ), he said, “will move us to seek, in time and out of time, the commitment to create a culture where each person has a right to breathe the air free of every type of abuse; a culture free of cover-ups that end by destroying our relations; a culture that faced with sin generates a dynamic of repentance, mercy and pardon, and faced with crime denounces it, puts it on trial and imposes sanctions.”
In his letter to the bishops on April 8, he called on Chilean Catholics to pray fervently to God and ask him to send his Spirit to enlighten them in discerning the measures to be taken to bring healing and reconciliation in the church in Chile. So too today he asked them to continue to pray and to listen to what the Spirit of God is saying to the church and believers in Chile. He told them, moreover, that “with you the necessary steps can be taken for a renewal and an ecclesial conversion that is healthy and long-term; with you the necessary transformation of that which is needed can be generated; but without you nothing can be done!”
He concluded by asking them to pray for him and promised that he too would pray for them.