Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Covering up abuse

In a week when the question of alleged child abuse, and alleged covering up of that abuse, reached the heart of UK society (see BBC news reports here and here, and other media coverage of the last few days) .... the Catholic Church appeared to be well ahead of wider society on the matter.

Though the Vatican Information Service gave its report a completely misleading headline - what Pope Francis actually said when you read the text of his homily was that "There is no place in the Church’s ministry for those who commit these abuses" - Pope Francis' homily at Santa Marta will, I believe, stand out as one of the most remarkable engagements of the Church with the question of abuse by those in positions of responsibility in the Church. See also Catholic Voices comment here, with links to further news reporting of Pope Francis' homily.

What is particularly striking is how Pope Francis, by his reference to St Peter's experience of the gaze of Jesus, takes upon the Petrine office of which he is now the holder the burden of the sin of abuse by others who have held office in the Church.
Before God and his people I express my sorrow for the sins and grave crimes of clerical sexual abuse committed against you. And I humbly ask forgiveness.
I beg your forgiveness, too, for the sins of omission on the part of Church leaders who did not respond adequately to reports of abuse made by family members, as well as by abuse victims themselves. This led to even greater suffering on the part of those who were abused and it endangered other minors who were at risk.
Though I am not able to find a suitable link as I write, Pope Francis' predecessor spoke in a similar way on more than one occasion and, like Pope Francis, carried the burden of the abuse scandal in the office of the Successor Peter. Perhaps the most comparable example of Pope Benedict's would be his letter to the Catholics of Ireland.

In the present context in the United Kingdom, a section of Pope Benedict XVI's address during his meeting with the Bishops of England, Wales and Scotland in September 2010 seems very prescient, if not prophetic:
Another matter which has received much attention in recent months, and which seriously undermines the moral credibility of Church leaders, is the shameful abuse of children and young people by priests and religious. I have spoken on many occasions of the deep wounds that such behaviour causes, in the victims first and foremost, but also in the relationships of trust that should exist between priests and people, between priests and their bishops, and between the Church authorities and the public. I know that you have taken serious steps to remedy this situation, to ensure that children are effectively protected from harm and to deal properly and transparently with allegations as they arise. You have publicly acknowledged your deep regret over what has happened, and the often inadequate ways it was addressed in the past. Your growing awareness of the extent of child abuse in society, its devastating effects, and the need to provide proper victim support should serve as an incentive to share the lessons you have learned with the wider community. Indeed, what better way could there be of making reparation for these sins than by reaching out, in a humble spirit of compassion, towards children who continue to suffer abuse elsewhere? Our duty of care towards the young demands nothing less.

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