Update: Pope: Abuse victims' outcry more powerful than efforts to silence them

IMAGE: CNS photo/Stefano Rellandini, Reuters

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — “No effort must be spared”
to prevent future cases of clerical sexual abuse and “to prevent the
possibility of their being covered up,” Pope Francis said in a letter
addressed “to the people of God.”

“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,”
the pope wrote in the letter dated and released Aug. 20.

The letter was published less than a week after the release
of a Pennsylvania grand jury report on decades of clerical sexual abuse and
coverups in six dioceses. The report spoke of credible allegations against 301
priests in cases involving more than 1,000 children.

“The heart-wrenching pain of these victims, which cries
out to heaven, was long ignored, kept quiet or silenced,” Pope Francis
said. “But their outcry was more powerful than all the measures meant to
silence them.”

“The pain of the victims and their families is also our
pain,” he said, “and so it is urgent that we once more reaffirm our
commitment to ensure the protection of minors and of vulnerable adults.”

In his letter, Pope Francis insisted all Catholics must be
involved in the effort to accompany victims, to strengthen safeguarding
measures and to end a culture where abuse is covered up.

While the letter called all Catholics to prayer and fasting,
it does not change any current policies or offer specific new norms.

It did, however, insist that “clericalism” has
been a key part of the problem and said the involvement of the laity will be
crucial to addressing the crime and scandal.

Change, he said, will require “the active participation
of all the members of God’s people.”

“Many communities where sexual abuse and the abuse of
power and conscience have occurred,” he said, are groups where there has
been an effort to “reduce the people of God to small elites.”

“Clericalism, whether fostered by priests themselves or
by lay persons, leads to a split in the ecclesial body that supports and helps
to perpetuate many of the evils that we are condemning today,” Pope
Francis said. “To say ‘no’ to abuse is to say an emphatic ‘no’ to all
forms of clericalism.”

In his letter, Pope Francis acknowledged the church’s

“With shame and repentance, we acknowledge as an
ecclesial community that we were not where we should have been, that we did not
act in a timely manner, realizing the magnitude and the gravity of the damage
done to so many lives,” he wrote.

“We showed no care for the little ones,” Pope
Francis said. “We abandoned them.”

“Looking back to the past, no effort to beg pardon and
to seek to repair the harm done will ever be sufficient,” he said. “Looking
ahead to the future, no effort must be spared to create a culture able to
prevent such situations from happening, but also to prevent the possibility of
their being covered up and perpetuated.”

Recognizing the safeguarding policies that have been adopted
in various parts of the world as well as pledges of “zero tolerance”
for abusive clerics, Pope Francis also acknowledged that “we have delayed
in applying these actions and sanctions that are so necessary, yet I am
confident that they will help to guarantee a greater culture of care in the
present and future.”

As members of the church, he said, all Catholics should “beg
forgiveness for our own sins and the sins of others.”

Pope Francis also asked Catholics to pray and to fast so
that they would be able to hear “the hushed pain” of abuse survivors.

He called for “a fasting that can make us hunger and
thirst for justice and impel us to walk in the truth, supporting all the
judicial measures that may be necessary. A fasting that shakes us up and leads
us to be committed in truth and charity with all men and women of good will,
and with society in general, to combating all forms of the abuse of power,
sexual abuse and the abuse of conscience.”

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