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Pope Francis: ‘Elitist, clericalist’ church allows abuse to thrive

A priest holds a rosary Aug. 24 outside the Pastoral Congress at the World Meeting of Families in Dublin. (CNS photo/Hannah McKay, Reuters)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Sexual and physical abuse by priests and religious and the scandal of its cover-up by church authorities thrive in countries where the Catholic Church is "elitist and clericalist," Pope Francis told Jesuits in Ireland in August.

"There is something I have understood with great clarity: this drama of abuse, especially when it is widespread and gives great scandal -- think of Chile, here in Ireland or in the United States -- has behind it a church that is elitist and clericalist, an inability to be near to the people of God," the pope told the Jesuits during a meeting Aug. 25 in Dublin.


As is customary when the pope meets Jesuits during a foreign trip, a transcript of his remarks to the 63 Jesuits he met in Ireland was published by the Jesuit journal La Civilta Cattolica after the pope had approved the text; it was released Sept. 13.

Pope Francis met the Jesuits in Dublin immediately after meeting eight people who had survived abuse at the hands of priests or in schools, mother and baby homes or other institutions operated by the church or Catholic religious orders.

"I didn't know that in Ireland there were also cases where unmarried women had their children taken away from them," the pope told the Jesuits, referring to the practice at many homes for unwed mothers. "Hearing this particularly touched my heart," he said.

Pope Francis asked the Jesuits for "special help: help the church in Ireland put an end to this. And what do I mean by put an end to it? I don't mean simply turn the page, but seek out a cure, reparation, all that is necessary to heal the wounds and give life back to so many people."

The root of the problem, he said, is elitism or clericalism. The two attitudes foster "every form of abuse. And sexual abuse is not the first. The first abuse is of power and conscience."

In confronting abuse and the church culture that allows it to fester, Pope Francis told the Jesuits, "Courage! Be courageous!"

"This is a special mission for you: clean this up, change consciences, do not be afraid to call things by their name," he told the group.

In confronting abuse and the church culture that allows it to fester, Pope Francis told the Jesuits, "Courage! Be courageous!"

One of the Jesuits asked the pope for concrete examples of what they should be doing.

"We have to denounce the cases we know about," the pope responded. "And sexual abuse is the consequence of abuse of power and of conscience as I said before. The abuse of power exists. Who among us does not know an authoritarian bishop? Forever in the church there have been authoritarian bishops and religious superiors. And authoritarianism is clericalism."

Speaking and acting decisively and with authority -- for example, in giving a priest an assignment -- is not the same thing as authoritarianism, he said. "We need to defeat authoritarianism," but rediscover the virtue of obedience when being sent in mission.


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Kevin White
1 year 6 months ago

Are the transcripts referenced available to the public? Also, dos the Pope not have staff enough to keep him better advised, for example on the historic circumstances in Irish orphanages, or in Chilean seminaries? It appears he may not be being well-served by his staff.

Reyanna Rice
1 year 6 months ago

Here’s a link to the full transcript:

And yes, I don’t think he has good staff to keep him appraised of things. Also, I read Italian and have noted the poor quality of the Vatican’s English translations of his words. However, I know for certain that the above article was not translated by the Vatican translators. La Civiltà has its own translators.

lynne miller
1 year 6 months ago

Wonderful, encouraging article!

lynne miller
1 year 6 months ago

Wonderful, encouraging article!

gerald nichols
1 year 6 months ago

If the reported words of PF to his Jesuits are not double-talk, what is?

Leo Sprietsma
1 year 6 months ago

If we want to get rid of a 'clericalist elite' that means wwe will need to get rid of the whole system of ordaining inly professional. perpetual, full-time 'Clerics'.
That will mean we will need to ordain LAITY.

Good idea, but it will involve some major changes in our present system and thinking.

As long as we maintain our system of restricting ordination and authority to Clerics, we will have 'clericalism;.

Douglas Gray
1 year 6 months ago

Six women in Buenos Aires have come forward, saying that Pope Francis himself was the "Elitist" he claims to decry. They all separately wrote to him about them being abused, but none ever received a reply. One of them said, "What sort of Pope has time for a private meeting with Leonardo DiCaprio, but had no time for us?" The proper course of action is clear, for any offending priests not protected by a statute of limitations, immediately expel and defrock them, and turn them over to the police. Those who have committed offenses for which the statute has expired, should still be expelled.

I hope and pray that Pope Francis is not the person referred to in these two messages from Pedro Regis, the Marian Visionary in Brazi:

Message 3276, June 2, 2010
The day will come when an apparently good and just man will appear. He will deceive many people, for he will realize great prodigies. He will come from the southern hemisphere and many people will consider him as a savior. Pay attention and don’t be deceived.

Message 3148, April 17, 2009
Dear Sons and Daughters, an arrogant Pope will divide the Church. His orders will be obeyed and what is precious will be thrown out. A great spiritual confusion is on the way. Pray. You can only defeat the devil by the power of prayer. Stay with the truth and accept the Gospel of My Son Jesus. Those who remain faithful to the end will be saved.


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