Pope Francis’ Message to Victims of Clergy Sexual Abuse

Pope Francis’ Message to Victims of Clergy Sexual Abuse September 27, 2015
By Milliped (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Milliped (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

This morning Pope Francis met with five victims of clerical sexual abuse–three women and two men, adults who had been abused as minors–at St Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia. He spoke with them individually and together as a group, and then invited them to join with him in prayer.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia was the flashpoint for the clergy abuse crisis in the United States. It was in that archdiocese that two grand jury reports, in 2005 and 2011, cited inadequate action on the part of church leaders to protect children from abuse by Catholic priests. Monsignor William Lynn, who had served as secretary of clergy under Philadelphia’s archbishop, Anthony Cardinal Bevilacqua, was arrested for failure to adequately protect young people, and in 2012 he was convicted of child endangerment.

So Pope Francis’ presence in the archdiocese, and his willingness to speak about the problem of abuse, is an important signal once again that the Church has tried to right any wrongs and to ensure that future policies will protect innocent children and hold accountable those responsible for abuse. 

Following are the Pope’s remarks in their entirety.

“My dearest brothers and sisters in Christ, I am grateful for this opportunity to meet you. Thank you for coming here today.

Words cannot fully express my sorrow for the abuse you suffered. You are precious children of God who should always expect our protection, our care, and our love. I am profoundly sorry that your innocence was violated by those who you trusted. In some cases the trust was betrayed by members of your family, in other cases by priests who carried a sacred responsibility for the care of souls. In all circumstances, the betrayal was a terrible violation of human dignity. 

For those who were abused by a member of the clergy, I am deeply sorry for the times when you or your family spoke out, to report the abuse, but you were not heard or believed. Please know that the Holy Father hears you and believes you. I deeply regret that some bishops failed in their responsibility to protect children. It is very disturbing to know that in some cases bishops even were abusers. I pledge to you that we will follow the path of truth wherever it may lead. Clergy and bishops will be held accountable when they abuse or fail to protect children. 

We are gathered here in Philadelphia to celebrate God’s gift of family life. Within our family of faith and our human families, the sins and crimes of sexual abuse of children must no longer be held in secret and in shame. As we anticipate the Jubilee Year of Mercy, your presence, so generously given despite the anger and pain you have experienced, reveals the merciful heart of Christ. Your stories of survival, each unique and compelling, are powerful signs of the hope that comes from the Lord’s promise to be with us always. 

It is good to know that you have brought family members and friends with you today. I am grateful for their compassionate support and pray that many people of the Church will respond to the call to accompany those who have suffered abuse. May the Door of Mercy be opened wide in our dioceses, our parishes, our homes and our hearts, to receive those who were abused and to seek the path to forgiveness by trusting in the Lord. We promise to support your continued healing and to always be vigilant to protect the children of today and tomorrow. 

When the disciples who walked with Jesus on the road to Emmaus recognized that He was the Risen Lord, they asked Jesus to stay with them. Like those disciples, I humbly beg you and all survivors of abuse to stay with us, to stay with the Church, and that together, as pilgrims on the journey of faith, we might find our way to the Father.”

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  • Re Ja

    I don’t believe the message is really getting through yet, and maybe that’s by design. A priest from OR under investigation for a hidden camera found in a vestry BR just ‘slipped’ out of the country back to his native Phillipines while on suspension and the Arbp was SHOCKED he would do so despite having ‘neglected’ to do any supervision and remaining ‘unaware’ he’d absconded for several weeks. Everything was done by the strictest most minimal letter of the law, while shredding his ethical and moral obligation to go beyond the minimum the law required and preventing the priest from getting away. The crime that could potentially be proven (the priest destroyed the evidence) is not serious enough to warrant an extradition. But the potential danger to children is obvious and we don’t know yet if he was just getting started or if there are actual victims out there. It remains to be seen if the Vatican will do anything or if he will slip back into ministry in his home country.

    I simply get more and more cynical about any real changes taking place. I think the bishops are just getting craftier legal advice.

    • kathyschiffer

      Re Ja, please lay out the protection plan you would put in place. Would you hire a guard or a spy to watch every priest in the country? Post security guards outside his apartment door? He was suspected and was immediately suspended, removed from contact with children. Isn’t that what you WANT to happen? Is there anything that could satisfy you?

      • Re Ja

        Simple common sense would be a good start. How about a requirement to check in?
        The archbishop said he wanted to send the priest to a certain place, isolated I believe was the implication. The priest asked to stay with a priest friend at a parish in the archiocese for his mental health and was given permission. He left the country almost immediately and according to the archbishop, he was unaware he was gone for at least 3 weeks. And he didn’t think it was his responsibility to let the investigators know!!

        Why didn’t the priest friend say anything given the circumstances of an ongoing criminal investigation?
        Why isn’t the priest friend in ‘trouble’ for failure to inform? Not one word critical of his actions or his identy or the parish he was at have been given.
        Why didn’t anyone in the archdiocese think it necessary to check in with the suspended priest given his ‘mental health’? Were they relying on the friend to keep them updated?

        You have to understand the egregious nature of the lies this priest told in the beginning and his willful destruction of evidence and lack of cooperation with the police to fully appreciate why extending any trust was so ridiculous, making it frankly impossible to believe any bishop or vicar for clergy could be that naive. It has been proven that the priest bought the camera and obviously was the one who installed it.

      • Re Ja

        The real take away message for the laity here is if you see something you think is illegal, report it straight to the police. DO NOT leave it in the hands of anyone in the parish or archdiocese to handle it. The parents who did so at the parish listened to the priest’s lies and excuses about the (non-existent police report) for a month before finally going to the deacon. Thank goodness the deacon did the right thing and confronted the priest.

  • Korou

    Let’s ask an independent investigation what they think of the Church’s stance on child abuse:
    “The Committee is gravely concerned that the Holy See has not
    acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed, has not taken the
    necessary measures to address cases of child sexual abuse and to protect
    children, and has adopted policies and practices which have led to the
    continuation of the abuse by and the impunity of the perpetrators.”