By Vatican News
“We confess that bishops priests, deacons, and religious in the Church have done violence to children and youth… that we have shielded the guilty… that we have not acknowledged the suffering of many victims… that we bishops did not live up to our responsibilities”.
The collective confession of faults by Pope Francis and almost two hundred Cardinals, Bishops, and other church leaders, was perhaps the most striking portion of the Penitential Service that marked the end of the final working day of the Meeting for the Protection of Minors in the Church.
“Lord Jesus Christ”, they prayed, “we ask for your mercy on us sinners. Kyrie eleison”. Lord, have mercy.
The Prodigal Son
The Service began with a hymn of penance, and penitential psalm, followed by the reading of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, from the Gospel of St Luke. Following the Gospel reading, Archbishop Philip Naameh, of Tamale, Ghana, addressed the assembly, with a somber reflection. “Too often we have kept quiet, looked the other way, avoided conflicts – we were too smug to confront ourselves with the dark side of the Church. We have squandered the trust placed in us”.
The Prodigal Son, he said, lost everything, including “his social status, his good standing, his reputation”. And speaking for himself and his brother Bishops, Archbishop Naameh said, “We should not be surprised if we suffer a similar fate… We should not complain about this, but ask instead, what should we do differently?”
Archbishop Naameh said church leaders can, must be willing to follow in the footsteps of the Prodigal Son, to admit their mistakes, to confess, to speak openly about it, and be ready to accept the consequences. He acknowledged that the current Meeting was only a first step. “As with the son who returns home in the Gospel, he said, everything is not yet accomplished. At the very least, he must still win over his brother again”. “We should also do the same”, the Archbishop concluded, win over our brothers and sisters in the congregations and communities, regain their trust, and re-establish their willingness to cooperate with us, to contribute to the establishment of the kingdom.”
After the homily, the participants once again heard from a victim of abuse, who spoke of the lifelong wounds inflicted by abuse: the humiliation, the confusion, the desire to escape – even to escape yourself. “What hurts the most”, he said,” “is that nobody will understand you. That lives with you, for the rest of your life.” But he ended his witness with a word of hope. “I now manage to cope with this better,” he said. “I try to focus on the God-given right to be allowed to live. I can and I should be here. This gives me courage.”