Ending every form of abuse
95. Recently, urgent appeals have been made for us to hear the cry of the victims of different kinds of abuse perpetrated by some bishops, priests, religious and laypersons. These sins cause their victims “sufferings that can last a lifetime and that no repentance can remedy. This phenomenon is widespread in society and it also affects the Church and represents a serious obstacle to her mission”.
96. It is true that “the scourge of the sexual abuse of minors is, and historically has been, a widespread phenomenon in all cultures and societies”, especially within families and in various institutions; its extent has become known primarily “thanks to changes in public opinion”. Even so, this problem, while it is universal and “gravely affects our societies as a whole… is in no way less monstrous when it takes place within the Church”. Indeed, “in people’s justified anger, the Church sees the reflection of the wrath of God, betrayed and insulted”.
97. “The Synod reaffirms the firm commitment made to adopting rigorous preventative measures intended to avoid the recurrence [of these crimes], starting with the selection and formation of those to whom tasks of responsibility and education will be entrusted”. At the same time, the determination to apply the “actions and sanctions that are so necessary” must be reiterated. And all this with the grace of Christ. There can be no turning back.
98. “Abuse exists in various forms: the abuse of power, the abuse of conscience, sexual and financial abuse. Clearly, the ways of exercising authority that make all this possible have to be eradicated, and the irresponsibility and lack of transparency with which so many cases have been handled have to be challenged. The desire to dominate, lack of dialogue and transparency, forms of double life, spiritual emptiness, as well as psychological weaknesses, are the terrain on which corruption thrives”. Clericalism is a constant temptation on the part of priests who see “the ministry they have received as a power to be exercised, rather than a free and generous service to be offered. It makes us think that we belong to a group that has all the answers and no longer needs to listen or has anything to learn”. Doubtless, such clericalism can make consecrated persons lose respect for the sacred and inalienable worth of each person and of his or her freedom.
99. Together with the Synod Fathers, I wish to thank, with gratitude and affection, “those who had the courage to report the evil they experienced: they help the Church to acknowledge what happened and the need to respond decisively”. Particular gratitude is also due for “the generous commitment of countless lay persons, priests, consecrated men and women, and bishops who daily devote themselves with integrity and dedication to the service of the young. Their efforts are like a great forest that quietly grows. Many of the young people present at the Synod also expressed gratitude to those who have accompanied them and they emphasized the great need for adults who can serve as points of reference”.
100. Thank God, those who committed these horrible crimes are not the majority of priests, who carry out their ministry with fidelity and generosity. I ask young people to let themselves be inspired by this vast majority. And if you see a priest at risk, because he has lost the joy of his ministry, or seeks affective compensation, or is taking the wrong path, remind him of his commitment to God and his people, remind him of the Gospel and urge him to hold to his course. In this way, you will contribute greatly to something fundamental: preventing these atrocities from being repeated. This dark cloud also challenges all young people who love Jesus Christ and his Church: they can be a source of great healing if they employ their great capacity to bring about renewal, to urge and demand consistent witness, to keep dreaming and coming up with new ideas.
101. Nor is this the only sin of the members of the Church; her long history is not without its shadows. Our sins are before the eyes of everyone; they appear all too clearly in the lines on the age-old face of the Church, our Mother and Teacher. For two thousand years she has advanced on her pilgrim way, sharing “the joys and the hopes, the grief and anguish” of all humanity. She has made this journey as she is, without cosmetic surgery of any kind. She is not afraid to reveal the sins of her members, which some try at times to hide, before the burning light of the word of the Gospel, which cleanses and purifies. Nor does she stop reciting each day, in shame: “Have mercy on me, Lord, in your kindness… my sin is always before me” (Ps 51:3.5). Still, let us never forget that we must not abandon our Mother when she is wounded, but stand beside her, so that she can summon up all her strength and all her ability to begin ever anew.
102. In the midst of this tragedy, which rightly pains us, “the Lord Jesus, who never abandons his Church, offers her the strength and the means to set out on a new path”. This dark moment, “not without the valuable help of the young, can truly be an opportunity for a reform of epoch-making significance”, opening us to a new Pentecost and inaugurating a new stage of purification and change capable of renewing the Church’s youth. Young people will be all the more helpful if they feel fully a part of the “holy and patient, faithful People of God, borne up and enlivened by the Holy Spirit”, for “it will be precisely this holy People of God to liberate us from the plague of clericalism, which is the fertile ground for all these disgraces”.