Cardinal Tagle at abuse summit: How do we balance justice and forgiveness?

Pope Francis leads the opening session of the meeting on the protection of minors. (CNS photo/Vatican Media) Pope Francis leads the opening session of the meeting on the protection of minors. (CNS photo/Vatican Media) 

Cardinal Luis Tagle of the Philippines urged bishops to reflect on the wounds of the risen Christ as they chart how best to serve survivors and to consider the role that forgiveness plays in their deliberations.

Choking up several times during his roughly 30-minute speech, the Filipino cardinal urged church leaders not to turn away from the wounds experienced by those who survived sexual abuse in the church.

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“We need to put aside any hesitation to draw close to the wounds of our people out of fear of being wounded ourselves,” he said. “Our people need us to draw close to their wounds and acknowledge our faults if we are to give authentic and credible witness to our faith in the resurrection.”

Cardinal Tagle urged church leaders not to shy away from acknowledging the pain of victims.

“We should also be aware that victim-survivors suffer great stress, heightened anxiety and depression, lowered self-images and interpersonal conflicts that arise from the inner brokenness,” he said. “And, tragically, all of this has led some to suicide.”

Cardinal Tagle urged church leaders not to shy away from acknowledging the pain of victims.

He said if survivors of abuse seek healing with assistance from church leaders, the church should be prepared to offer resources.

“We are not suggesting that they just let it all go, excuse the abuse and move on. No, far from it,” he said. “But, we also know that when victims come to a moment of forgiving others who have harmed them, a deeper healing takes place and they reach a place of peace."

“What we should do as leaders and as the church is to commit ourselves to continually walk in solidarity with those profoundly wounded by abuse at their own pace, building trust, providing unconditional love and repeatedly asking for forgiveness in the full recognition that we do not deserve that forgiveness in the order of justice but can only receive it when it is bestowed as gift and grace in the process of healing,” he said.

In another speech given later on Thursday, Cardinal Rubén Salazar Gómez, the archbishop of Bogota, laid out how a culture of clericalism exacerbated the abuse crisis in the church.

“In analyzing the way in which this crisis has generally been responded to, we encounter a mistaken understanding of how to exercise ministry that has led to serious errors of authority which have increased the severity of the crisis,” Cardinal Salazar said. “This has a name: clericalism.”

Pope Francis and his allies, including Chicago’s Cardinal Blase Cupich, one of four organizers of the summit, have repeatedly blamed clericalism for the crisis. In his talk, Cardinal Salazar reflected on how bishops have failed to take abuse allegations seriously in the past and said that more than new policies, a change in culture is needed.

Cardinal Salazar said it is “necessary to unmask the underlying clericalism and bring about a change of mentality,” adding, “in more precise terms, this change is called conversion.” He condemned bishops who acted like “the hirelings who, on seeing the wolf coming, flee and leave the flock unprotected.” He said ignoring victims, shuffling predatory priests and using settlements to “buy silence” are examples of how bishops have abandoned their flocks.

“There is no possible justification for not denouncing, not unmasking, not courageously and forcefully confronting any abuse that presents itself within our church,” Cardinal Salazar said, praising the media “for helping us to face the crisis rather than sidestep it.”

Cardinal Tagle also rejected the notion that bishops must choose between caring for victims and offering forgiveness to perpetrators, highlighting his work with Robert Enright, a psychologist and professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who founded the International Forgiveness Institute. Dr. Enright is working with Catholic schools in Manila to provide education about forgiveness.

“Regarding victims, we need to help them to express their deep hurts and to heal from them,” the cardinal said. “Regarding the perpetrators, we need to serve justice, help them to face the truth without rationalization and at the same time not neglect their inner world.”

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In an interview with America following Cardinal Tagle’s talk, Dr. Enright said his research has found that survivors of trauma, including sexual abuse, report lower rates of depression when they include forgiveness in their healing process.

“Injustice is a wound,” Dr. Enright said, “but what happens after that wound is ever greater woundedness. The injustice leads to lots of complications, and the basic complication is what I’ve come to call resentment.” That resentment, he said, can manifest itself years later in depression, anxiety and other mental health challenges.

Forgiving the offender can help those suffering from the fallout of trauma—but Dr. Enright cautioned that forgiveness can never be expected from those who experience abuse, merely offered as a choice.

“It is not excusing; it is not forgetting; it is not throwing justice under the bus; it may or may not be reconciling,” he said.

Cardinal Tagle wrapped up his talk by asking bishops to consider four questions:

  • “How can we serve justice and foster forgiveness in the face of this wound of sexual abuse?
  • “How can we prevent distorting forgiveness so that we do not equate it with just letting the injustice slide away or move on and dismiss the wrong?
  • “How can we keep an accurate view of forgiveness as offering a startling mercy of unconditional love to those who have done wrong, while at the same time, we strive for justice?
  • “How can we renew the church by a firm correction of a definite wrong and walk with the abused, patiently and repeatedly begging forgiveness, knowing that giving such a gift can heal them even more?”

Transparency has been a key theme of the summit, heralded by both church leaders and victims’ advocates. The talks given by bishops on Feb. 21 were live streamed on the Vatican’s YouTube channel, but question-and-answer sessions following the speeches were not made public.

Follow our complete coverage of the Vatican summit

UPDATED at 12:17 p.m. ET with additional content from Cardinal Salazar's presentation

Correction (Feb. 21, 2019; 2:55 p.m. ET): Cardinal Tagle was not one of the four members of the summit organizing committee as this article originally reported.

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Craig B. Mckee
9 months ago

ALL WOMEN in the back row, please (cf. pix #8, 10, 14):
http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/events/event.dir.html/content/vaticanevents/en/2019/2/21/protezione-minori.html

And they're apparently not even on the Pope's radar screen:
"Dear Brothers, good morning!"

Lisa M
9 months ago

Its all how you look at it Mister McKee. I suspect you made up your mind long ago. FYI, they are observers, not participants, there is a difference.

Nora Bolcon
9 months ago

You are so spot on my friend. I was just watching Christiana Amanpour interview Cardinal Chaput and she did a great job! He was wiggling uncomfortably in his chair, desperately, trying to avert her direct questions on why the Pope does not face the facts regarding the raping of nuns and sexual assaults on children, if we want this abuse to end, we need a gender balanced, equally gender ordained hierarchy.

When he tried to run away from the question by saying things like you are so right it is our bad clericalism that has caused this abuse problem, she asked him don't you think this is the ideal time to have women priests? Without women having any voice and equal authority this culture of clericalism, based on sexism and patriarchy, and fear of women, will only just continue into the future?

It makes me so happy to see these bishops get nailed when trying to avoid the conversation on women priests and women bishops by trying to confuse the laity with vague terms and other verbal bull.

Pope Francis' vague words to intentionally confuse anyone who tries to discuss, honestly, our problem with sexism include:
A. Clericalism-no one really understands this word but it seems to mean arrogant clergy thinking they can get away with murder due to the exclusive prestige that comes with priestly ordination (but if we bishops keep the laity's attention away from the fact that the exclusion of women from ordination creates this type of prestige, it will be confusing enough to sometimes halt the discussion which is the point of using this term),
B. Secularism-meant from one's worldly viewpoint. This word confuses because it is used to insult the person who questions the Pope or any bishop regarding why they are continuing their obviously harmful and clearly sexist stand against women priests. The cleric will respond if you were thinking less from a secular viewpoint you would understand we are right. This term insults the questioner by inferring their question is faithless and lacking in depth (it assumes worldly thoughts never combine with faithful thoughts which is ridiculous but often the soft insult gets the questioner to retreat and that is the point of using this term)
C. Gnosticism- an oldie but a goodie! This term both from back to the early 200-300 AD and now as Pope Francis seems to be pulling it out again is basically used when the church wants to justify a bad stand on any subject but has no biblical or rational justification for its stand, or for ordering the laity to condemn an opposing teaching or stand but really wants to order laypeople to believe against it anyway. This term confuses because it has a spooky past and is used to demand agreement of things that don't make much sense and often the laity would rebel against agreeing to. (Most Catholics relate this term to heresy and ancient witchcraft and punishments of torture by inquisitors. So even though it just describes anything the Pope does not like or want the laity to agree with or support, like women's ordination - the term's weirdness and lack of clear meaning will scare some questioners back down, and that is the point of using the term.)
D. Functionalism - This term is very difficult to describe in a practical way. When Pope Francis is asked why he does not put women in roles or leadership over commissions in the vatican that don't require a cardinal to lead them (laymen have been given some of these posts lately but no laywomen) he will use this term. The Pope will say something like, Well just because women can't be priests does not mean we should abuse them by putting them in these big positions just as functionaries. If we give them any leadership roles out there just so we can say they are leading things in the church, he will say this is Functionalism and that is a bad thing. This answer can leave the questioner scratching their heads and asking themselves, don't men merely do these leadership roles the same way women would do them? So how does this not make such men mere functionaries too? And how can women do any job in the church if merely functioning in a church leadership position is deemed bad? (By the time the questioner has figured out this logic makes no sense, the questioned cleric has already left the bldg. and that is the point of using this term.)

Nonsense is harmful. It is high time we demanded intelligent, faithful, Gospel sourced dialogue on the issue of women's same sacraments, ordination and treatment and put an end to the harmful gibberish we have allowed to take place for so long.

J Jones
9 months ago

Nora, I am not ready to toss clericalism as a causative factor AND I agree wholeheartedly with you that the exclusion of women from ordination is both constructive of clericalism and a result of clericalism.

Your analysis of the verbal shellgame is magnificently on point.

J Jones
9 months ago

Duplicate

Kevin Murphy
9 months ago

Blaming "clericalism" for these scandals is like blaming globalization for 9/11.

rose-ellen caminer
9 months ago

[Our policies in the ME had everything to do with 9-11. We were not minding our own business that glorious Sept. morn.Our secularism and their religion had nothing to do with it; we got blow back for out support of the Saudi regime , military bases in their lands , first gulf war, vetoing every UN resolution which would have brought a modicum of justice to the Arab/Palestinians. etc. We have a self serving narrative that we were attacked by irrational religious fanatics for not being Muslim, but that narrative denies the reality of consequences to US for our policies towards them;our cold war alliances, and the history of colonialism.9-11 was fall out of the cold war [ that war we said we won without a shot being fired]. Alquauda core saw themselves as freedom fighters and opposed all the regimes we supported which harmed the native people[Khosoggie was just one of em] but benefited us.Like the ones our presidential candidates supports; the mass murdering Assad regime in cahoots with Putin for example.They fought us in Iraq when we denied Sunnis their equal rights there; we ethnically cleansed Baghdad of its Sunnis i.e.,we murdered them all!]

Lisa M
9 months ago

Rose-There is no question the treatment of the Palestinians over the last 50 years has and will continue to have consequences.

J Jones
9 months ago

What a tragedy. Day one and already victims' desire for healing has been manipulated for the benefit of the perpetrators, which includes the Church itself. The paradox Cardinal Tagle speaks of is real but now is not the time. Now is the time for full truth-telliing: every file box upended on conference tables in front of civil authorities. Once everything is known ---- once the full extent of individual and corporate crimes are known ---- then the Church may have an additional role in the healing process. But every secret held is a new trauma, a new violation, a new violence waiting in the wings of our faith lives ---- a new injury to a sucking chest wound borne by the specific victim and the laypeople as a whole.

To ask for forgiveness mid-punch is cruel. It is obscene. And it is a harbinger of danger on the horizon. In another, though quite similar, context (the criminal justice field of interpersonal violence or domestic violence), asking forgiveness "mid-punch" is known as "the cycle of power and control".

J Jones
9 months ago

Compare this article, written by a Jesuit employee (an employee of one of the organizations very frequently named on the lists of individual and corporate perpetrators), to this article by Thomas Reese SJ about the same event (and Tagle's comments on forgiveness).

https://www.ncronline.org/news/accountability/signs-times/vatican-meeting-abuse-opens-indictments-victims

Fr Matt, you are the editor. You are a Jesuit. The Jesuits are STILL being caught in secrets (one example: the perpetrators housed on the Gonzaga University campus in a residential neighborhood, a fact the city of Spokane learned at Christmastime).

And yet your publication highlights THIS?

For Pete's sake, Fr Matt.

arthur mccaffrey
9 months ago

many thanks for this reference to the superior NCR article by Reese which I urge everyone to read. It clarifies much of this limited America article, and highlights the role of important breakout sessions. Reese also criticises Tagle's discussion of
forgiveness as premature and out of place at this stage of the conference. Once again, after reading the NCR piece, I am struck (and saddened) by how badly so many of these bishops simply lack a vocabulary for talking about criminal abuse. They are like parrots, forced to fall back on the only language they know, which is the language of the confessional, rather than the courtroom. What a complete mismatch between the nature of the crime and the verbal response of the bishops--the last time I heard such a mismatch was watching a Monty Python skit--but this isn't funny, this is tragic. There is a lot of hubris in Rome this week as these guys try to convince the world that they know what they are talking about!

J Jones
9 months ago

I agree. I was appalled that America published this article before I saw Fr Reese's piece in NCR and even more so afterward. America's staff, starting with Fr Matt, need to take a long hard look at why they published this article and why they gave it "pride of place" on the website.

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