Pope praises abuse survivor for breaking silence

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The sexual abuse of children by
those who have vowed to serve Christ and the church is a horrendous monstrosity
that represents “a diabolical sacrifice” of innocent, defenseless
lives, Pope Francis said.

The church, which must protect the weakest, has a duty
“to act with extreme severity with priests who betray their mission and
with the hierarchy — bishops and cardinals — who protect them,” the pope
wrote in the preface to a new book written by a man raped as a child by a
Capuchin priest.

The book, “My Father, I Forgive You” (“Mon
Pere, Je Vous Pardonne”), was written by Daniel Pittet, 57, in an effort
to describe how he fell victim to a predator abuser when he was 8 years old
growing up in Fribourg, Switzerland, and the challenges he faced when came
forward two decades later with the accusations. The book, currently published
only in French, was to be released Feb. 16. News outlets released the text of
the pope’s preface Feb. 13.

Pittet — who had been a monk, but later married and had
six children — had met the pope at the Vatican during the Year of Consecrated
Life in 2015.

In the course of their conversation, Pittet said he told
the pope he had been raped as a child by a priest. Tears welled up in the
pope’s eyes, and the two embraced, Pittet said in an interview with the Italian
daily La Repubblica.

Pope Francis said in his preface that Pittet’s personal
testimony about his abuse “is necessary, invaluable and courageous”
because often it is very difficult for survivors to talk about what happened
and the trauma that lingers for years.

“His suffering moved me. I saw once again the
frightful damage caused by sexual abuse and the long and painful journey that
awaits the victim,” the pope wrote.

The suffering and suicides of people who were abuse by
clergy and religious “weigh on my heart, on my conscience and on that of
the whole church. To their families, I offer my feelings of love and pain, and
humbly ask forgiveness,” Pope Francis wrote.

It is good for people to read Pittet’s testimony and see
how “evil can enter the heart of a servant of the church,” the pope
said. “How can a priest, at the service of Christ and his church, end up
causing so much pain?”

Instead of leading children to God, the pope said,
abusive priests “devour them” in “a diabolical sacrifice that
destroys both the victim and the life of the church.”

The abuse of children at the hands of religious, Pope
Francis said, is “an absolute monstrosity, a horrendous sin, radically
contrary to everything Christ teaches us.”

The church must take care of and lovingly protect the
weakest and most defenseless, he said, and to act with “extreme
severity” toward abusers and toward bishops and cardinals who protect
them, “as it has already happened in the past.”

The pope wrote that he was also moved by the fact that
Pittet had forgiven his abuser, Capuchin Father Joel Allaz, even meeting with
him face-to-face 44 years later.

“The wounded child is today a man standing on his
feet, fragile, but standing,” the pope said.

“I thank Daniel because all testimony like his
breaks down the wall of silence that hushes up scandals and suffering, sheds
light on a terrible area of darkness in the church’s life. They open a path to
a just reparation and the grace of reconciliation and also help pedophiles
become aware of the terrible consequences of their actions,” he wrote.

According to a press release by the Catholic bishops’
conference of Switzerland, accusations were made against Father Allaz by at
least 24 victims.

The first two civil court cases in 1995 and 2002 were
thrown out because the statute of limitations had run out. Only when Father
Allaz admitted to abusing two minors between 1992 and 1995 was the court able
to prosecute and hand down a suspended two-year sentence.

The Capuchins acknowledge that their way of handling
accusations against Father Allaz over the years, including transferring him to
ministry in France, only allowed for further abuse, according to the press
release Feb. 13. The religious order, the conference said, recognizes that by
trying to protect the church’s reputation, they worked alone to resolve the
problem, did not inform receiving employers and did not take victims’ claims
seriously enough.

The conference said the book shows “the sad
mechanisms that gave free rein” to manipulative and malicious pedophiles
— mechanisms that were built on individual behaviors and mentalities as well
as structures.

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