In his closing talk to the Vatican summit for the protection of minors, Pope Francis offered a wide-ranging analysis of the plague of the sexual abuse of minors in the world and the Catholic Church. He committed the church to do everything possible to eradicate it from within the church itself and from society as a whole.
“We are facing a universal problem, tragically present almost everywhere and affecting everyone,” Pope Francis said in a 30-minute talk at the end of Mass, which he celebrated in the Sala Regia, next to the Sistine Chapel, with the patriarchs, cardinals, bishops and priests who had participated in the four-day summit on the protection of minors.
Australian Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane gave the homily at the summit’s closing Mass, saying that like Nicolaus Copernicus’ discovery that the earth revolves around the sun, the church is in need of a “Copernican revolution” where “those who have been abused do not revolve around the church but the church around them.”
“In discovering this, we can begin to see with their eyes and to hear with their ears; and once we do that, the world and the church begin to look quite different,” he said. “This is the necessary conversion, the true revolution and the great grace, which can open for the church a new season of mission.”
The church needs a “Copernican revolution” where “those who have been abused do not revolve around the church but the church around them.”
Pope Francis’ talk surprised media commentators because he did not provide any of “the concrete measures” that he had called for at the beginning of the summit on Feb. 21. Informed sources who participated in the summit, however, told America these would come later through a substantial and sustained follow-up to the summit.
In fact at the conclusion of the summit, Frederico Lombardi, S.J., who served as the gathering’s moderator, announced that Pope Francis will issue a motu propio “on the protection of minors and vulnerable persons” and that “this document will accompany a new law of Vatican City State and Guidelines for the Vicariate of Vatican City on the same subject.”
He said in a statement that the pope “has expressed the intention of creating task forces of competent persons to help episcopal conferences and dioceses that find it difficult to confront the problems and produce initiatives for the protection of minors.”
“These first steps are encouraging signs that will accompany us in our mission of preaching the Gospel and of serving all children throughout the world, in mutual solidarity with all people of goodwill who want to abolish every form of violence and abuse against minors,” Father Federico Lombardi said.
In his closing talk, Pope Francis provided data demonstrating that the sexual abuse of minors is prevalent first of all in families. But, he said, the statistics “do not represent the real extent of the phenomenon...because many cases of the sexual abuse of minors go unreported, particularly the great number committed within families.”
“Today we find ourselves before a manifestation of brazen, aggressive and destructive evil.”
He noted that the “anguish tragically leads to bitterness, even suicide, or at times to seek revenge by doing the same thing. The one thing certain is that millions of children in the world are victims of exploitation and of sexual abuse.”
Pope Francis, however, went beyond a review of the data to expose what he has discerned as the underlying force behind all this: “Today we find ourselves before a manifestation of brazen, aggressive and destructive evil. Behind and within, there is the spirit of evil, which in its pride and in its arrogance considers itself the Lord of the world and thinks that it has triumphed.”
Speaking as “pastor of the church,” Pope Francis said: “In these painful cases, I see the hand of evil that does not spare even the innocence of the little ones. And this leads me to think of the example of Herod who, driven by fear of losing his power, ordered the slaughter of all the children of Bethlehem.”
Notwithstanding the worldwide nature of the problem, Pope Francis said, “we need to be clear that while gravely affecting our societies as a whole, this evil is in no way less monstrous when it takes place within the church.”
Indeed, he said, “the brutality of this worldwide phenomenon becomes all the more grave and scandalous in the church, for it is utterly incompatible with her moral authority and ethical credibility.” He emphasized the fact that “consecrated persons, chosen by God to guide souls to salvation, let themselves be dominated by their human frailty or sickness and thus become tools of Satan.”
“From today, the church’s aim will thus be to hear, watch over, protect and care for abused, exploited and forgotten children, wherever they are.”
As church leaders, Francis said, “we need to recognize with humility and courage that we stand face to face with the mystery of evil, which strikes most violently against the most vulnerable, for they are an image of Jesus.”
For this reason, he said, “the church has become increasingly aware of the need not only to curb the gravest cases of abuse by disciplinary measures and civil and canonical processes but also to decisively confront the phenomenon both inside and outside the church.”
Francis said the church “feels called to combat this evil that strikes at the very heart of her mission, which is to preach the Gospel to the little ones and to protect them from ravenous wolves.”
He made unequivocally clear, however, that “if in the church there should emerge even a single case of abuse—which already in itself represents an atrocity—that case will be faced with the utmost seriousness.” He did not use the expression “zero tolerance” as he has done before and as victims had hoped he would, but he left no doubt that decisive action would be taken on every case of abuse.
Francis urged all Catholics to help the church be liberated “from the plague of clericalism, which is the fertile ground for all these disgraces.”
Francis said that “in people’s justified anger, the church sees the reflection of the wrath of God, betrayed and insulted by these deceitful consecrated persons.” Moreover, he said, “the silent cry of the little ones who, instead of finding in them fathers and spiritual guides encountered tormentors, will shake hearts dulled by hypocrisy and by power.”
Summing up the summit’s discussion, Pope Francis said that “from today, the church’s aim will thus be to hear, watch over, protect and care for abused, exploited and forgotten children, wherever they are.” But “to achieve that goal, the church must rise above the ideological disputes and journalistic practices that often exploit, for various interests, the very tragedy experienced by the little ones.”
Francis said that “the time has come to work together to eradicate this evil from the body of our humanity by adopting every necessary measure already in force on the international level and ecclesial levels.”
In this context, he said, it is necessary “to find a correct equilibrium of all values in play” and “to provide uniform directives for the church, avoiding the two extremes of a ‘justicialism’ provoked by guilt for past errors and media pressure”—perhaps referring to a kind of lynch-mob reaction—“and a defensivenessthat fails to confront the causes and effects of these grave crimes,” referring to those who have not yet grasped the gravity of the situation.
The pope sought to locate the abuse of minors by clergy in the wider reality by showing that the sexual abuse of minors is widespread in the world. “It is difficult to grasp the phenomenon of the sexual abuse of minors without considering power,” he said, “since it is always the result of an abuse of power, an exploitation of the inferiority and vulnerability of the abused, which makes possible the manipulation of their conscience and of their psychological and physical weakness.”
He urged all Catholics to help the church be liberated “from the plague of clericalism, which is the fertile ground for all these disgraces.”
“I make a heartfelt appeal for an all-out battle against the abuse of minors both sexually and in other areas, on the part of all authorities and individuals, for we are dealing with abominable crimes that must be erased from the face of the earth,” the pope said.
Material from Catholic News Service was used in this report.
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