BOSTON, Mass., Aug. 20, 2018 – Pope Francis issued a letter today addressed to all the People of God in response to last week’s grand jury report of long-term Catholic clergy sexual abuse and its coverup in six Pennsylvania dioceses. The Pope abjectly apologized for the abuse, pointed out the spiritual failings, Church structures and culture of clericalism that led to it, and he exhorted Catholics to prayer and fasting for conversion.
With these words, Pope Francis seems at last to understand how corrupting clericalism has been and how terrible the evil perpetrated by abusers and the bishops who covered up. But prayer, fasting and penance, while essential, will not fix the problems. A good deal of prayer, penance and fasting has occurred but has not stopped the abuse or the coverups, and they have not fixed clericalism. Although we applaud the Pope’s expressions of regret and sorrow, as always, we find ourselves anxiously anticipating action to back up his words.
This time, all the people of God must be involved in a systemic solution, as several bishops have pointed out over the past few days since the grand jury report was released. It is impossible to think of a conversion of our activity as a Church, which Pope Francis is calling for, that does not include the active participation of all God’s people. VOTF has long called for greater lay input into the governance and guidance of the Church and for accountability now so clearly essential to addressing this systemic evil.
The Pope also correctly and emphatically points out the evils of clericalism. He says it is an approach that “not only nullifies the character of Christians, but also tends to diminish and undervalue the baptismal grace that the Holy Spirit has placed in the heart of our people. Clericalism, whether fostered by priests themselves or by lay persons, leads to an excision in the ecclesial body that supports and helps to perpetuate many of the evils that we are condemning today.”
We agree. Clericalism, as VOTF has said since our 2011 response to the John Jay College report on clergy sexual abuse, is at the root of the problem within the church today. The priests, the hierarchy and the laity all play a role in creating the culture of clericalism, and we must all play a role in tearing it down. The first step must be to hold accountable those bishops that covered up the abuse. This is not just to point out that some bishops are guilty. It also is meant to be a call to action for the lay people.
The Church is the People of God, and we all must right these wrongs:
- We must stand for nothing less than a full account of those who allowed this abuse of children in the Church to continue and who covered it up, and the Pope must remove from ministry those found guilty of committing or covering up these crimes.
- We must call for a change in statutes of limitations so that victims can seek justice in our courts, and the church must support those changes—not stand in the way.
- We must work together to root out clericalism and make the Church as an organization answerable to all the People of God.
Voice of the Faithful Statement, Aug. 20, 2018
Contact: Nick Ingala, firstname.lastname@example.org, 781-559-3360
Voice of the Faithful®: Voice of the Faithful® is a worldwide movement of faithful Roman Catholics working to support survivors of clergy sexual abuse, support priests of integrity, and increase the laity’s role in the governance and guidance of the Church. More information is at www.votf.org.