Pope Francis’s Letter on Abuse Was Not Enough – We Need Action

The Pope must come up with a concrete plan to address the crisis

Pope Francis has written another letter in the wake of the revelations regarding clerical sex abuse in Pennsylvania. From start to finish, his latest “Letter to the People of God” is full of language we have seen before, or minor variations on themes that have become clichés – little more than what folks in the trade call “boilerplate”.

It is devoid of practical considerations regarding the reform of clerical leadership worldwide, which many within and without the Church now universally recognise as necessary and urgent.

The letter is, in a word, inadequate: like the statement from USCCB president Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, an exercise in misdirection, blame-shifting, and obfuscation.

The letter is riddled with cliché.

Its incipit takes a quote from the First Letter of St Paul to the Corinthians (12:12-26) and misapplies it — for though the Church is indeed one Body, her sickness is in the head. His next sentence is self-serving, as it attempts, with all the subtlety of a mallet strike, to remind the reader of all the times the Popes and other Church leaders have given us high-sounding words of execration for the evils that were the run of the mill on their watch.

“These words of Saint Paul forcefully echo in my heart as I acknowledge once more the suffering endured by many minors due to sexual abuse, the abuse of power and the abuse of conscience perpetrated by a significant number of clerics and consecrated persons,” Pope Francis writes.

A “significant number,” indeed, and telling that he does not say, “bishops,” — an omission to which the Director of the Press Office of the Holy See, Greg Burke, called attention when he attempted to rectify it. Burke offered, “Pope Francis says that greater accountability is needed, not only for those who committed these crimes but those who covered them up, which in many cases means bishops.” That is what Burke said.

Pope Francis says that he ‘makes his own’ the words of then-Cardinal Ratzinger:

How much filth there is in the Church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to [Christ]!  How much pride, how much self-complacency! Christ’s betrayal by his disciples, their unworthy reception of his body and blood, is certainly the greatest suffering endured by the Redeemer; it pierces his heart.  We can only call to him from the depths of our hearts: Kyrie eleison – Lord, save us! (cf. Mt 8:25)

That was 2005, this is now. Thirteen years have passed since we first heard that cri de coeur, and still the People of God await the cleansing of the house. Meanwhile, we are fed on what may charitably be called euphemism: “We have delayed in applying these actions and sanctions that are so necessary,” Pope Francis writes, “yet I am confident that they will help to guarantee a greater culture of care in the present and future.” Such words as these, given in this moment, are a grotesque parody of John the Seer:

[The angel] said to me, ‘Take the book, and eat it up: and it shall make thy belly bitter, but in thy mouth it shall be sweet as honey.’ And I took the book from the hand of the angel, and ate it up: and it was in my mouth, sweet as honey: and when I had eaten it, my belly was bitter.’

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