In response to a Pennsylvania grand jury report detailing decades of abuse and coverup in the Catholic Church, Pope Francis wrote a recent pastoral letter “to the people of God” in which he again acknowledges the sins of the church and asks all the faithful to take part in “the ecclesial and social change that we so greatly need.” It is a response that few have found adequate.
Not a year has gone by in my entire adult life when I have not been involved in some way with the care and supervision of young people. I have been a youth pastor, a classroom teacher, a pre-collegiate program coordinator, and a private school administrator. I have been a witness at the deposition of an individual accused of sexual abuse, and I have been involved at every level with crafting policies and procedures to keep anything like that from ever happening to any child under my care. At every point along the way it has been my job to communicate to my volunteers and staff the importance of protecting the safety and integrity of children, and to make sure parents were assured of the same.
Reading the letter of His Holiness, I think I understand why it landed so weakly and pathetically, like a slab of beef hitting a linoleum floor. It fails to communicate that the church understands the seriousness of the situation and thus that the children it takes into its care are protected. Consider how it opens:
“If one member suffers, all suffer together with it” (1 Cor 12:26). 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.