By Vatican News
“With these few lines, I would like to draw near to you as a brother,” Pope Francis writes to the U.S. Bishops, who are taking part in a spiritual retreat to consider their response to the crisis of clerical sexual abuse.
In his letter, the Pope says he wants to encourage the Bishops in their prayer, and in the steps they are taking “to combat the ‘culture of abuse’ and to deal with the crisis of credibility.”
Be attentive and discerning
“At times of great confusion and uncertainty,” he writes, we need to be attentive and discerning, to free our hearts of compromises and false certainties, in order to hear what the Lord asks of us in the mission He has given us.” But, the Pope warns, while many actions may be “helpful, good, and necessary,” they may not have “the ‘flavor’ of the Gospel.” “To put it colloquially,” he says, “we have to be careful that ‘the cure does not become worse than the disease’.”
Pope Francis notes “the Church’s credibility has been seriously undercut” by abuse of power and conscience, and by sexual abuse; “but even more by the efforts made to conceal and deny them.” The attempt to cover-up such “sins and crimes,” he says, “enabled them to fester and cause even greater harm.”
A renewed approach
The Pope says, “combatting the culture of abuse, the loss of credibility, the resulting bewilderment and confusion, and the discrediting of our mission urgently demand of us a renewed and decisive approach,” which cannot be reduced simply to “issuing stern degrees,” or “creating new committees or improving flowcharts.” “In a word,” he says, “a new ecclesial season needs bishops who can teach others how to discern God’s presence in the history of His people, and not mere administrators.” Pope Francis says, “our primary duty is to foster a shared spirit of discernment.” This, he continues, “will enable us to be fully immersed in reality, seeking to appreciate and hear it from within, without being held hostage to it.”
The renewal called for by Pope Francis involves a “collegial awareness of our being sinners in need of constant conversion” which will “allow us to enter into affective communion with our people.” This approach, he says, “demands of us the decision to abandon a modus operandi of disparaging, discrediting, playing the victim or the scold in our relationships, and instead to make room for the gentle breeze that the Gospel alone can offer.”
Credibility and trust
Credibility, the Pope insists, “is born of trust, and trust is born of sincere, humble and generous service to all, but especially to those dearest to the Lord’s heart.”
“How sublime is the task at hand,” the Pope says to the Bishops. “We cannot keep silent or downplay it because of our own limitations and faults.” Quoting Mother Theresa, he says “Yes, I have many human faults and failures… but God bends down and uses us, you and me, to be His love and His compassion in the world; He bears our sins, our troubles, and our faults.”
Please see the full text of the Pope's letter on the website of the USCCB.