By Linda Bordoni
Pope Francis’ private encounter with the Jesuit Community of Ireland came on the heels of his meeting earlier that evening (Saturday August 25th) with eight survivors of sex abuse. He told his brother Jesuits that what he had heard “touched” him deeply. Then he asked those present to help him, and the Church in Ireland, “to put an end to this”.
“And what do I mean by put an end to it? I don’t mean simply turn the page, but seek out a cure, reparation, all that is necessary to heal the wounds and give life back to so many people. The letter I wrote recently to the people of God speaks of shame for the abuses. I wish to repeat it here and share it with you today” he said.
Affirming that he understands with clarity the drama of clerical sexual abuse, he said it is linked to a Church that is marked by élitism and clericalism and consequently to its inability to be close to the people of God:
“There is something I have understood with great clarity: this drama of abuse, especially when it is widespread and gives great scandal – think of Chile, here in Ireland or in the United States – has behind it a Church that is elitist and clericalist, an inability to be near to the people of God. Elitism, clericalism fosters every form of abuse. And sexual abuse is not the first. The first abuse is of power and conscience. I ask you to help with this. Courage! Be courageous! I really was unable to believe the stories that I have seen well documented. I heard them now in the other room and was deeply upset. This is a special mission for you: clean this up, change consciences, do not be afraid to call things by their name” he said.
Pope Francis also answered questions put to him directly by those present. To the question “what can be done concretely against the abuses?” he affirmed that all priests are called to denounce the cases they know about.
He also said he believes that sexual abuse is the consequence of the abuse of power and of conscience and he decried an authoritarian attitude that exists within the Church, also amongst bishops and religious superiors. Commenting on how “we all know an authoritarian bishop”, he expressed the need to defeat authoritarianism and clericalism and “rediscover the obedience of the sending in mission”.
During his meeting the Pope also spoke of freedom, discernment and fruitfulness, as well as the topic of vocations and of how he “keeps his heart happy with all that is happening to him”.
A full transcript of the Pope’s words was published on Thursday by the Rome-based “La Civiltà Cattolica” directed by Antonio Spadaro SJ who was present during that meeting.