By Andrea Tornielli
The letter that Pope Francis sent as a sign of his personal closeness to the American Bishops, gathered in spiritual retreat in Chicago, offers a key to understanding his perspective on the abuse crisis, with a view also to the February meeting in the Vatican. In his speech to the Roman Curia on December 21st, the Pope expressed himself in a wide-ranging, determined, and powerful way on this subject. Now, in his message to the Bishops of the United States, he does not dwell on examining the phenomenon of abuse of power, conscience, and sexuality against minors and vulnerable adults, but goes to the root of the problem by indicating a way forward.
"The Church’s credibility”, says the Pope, “has been seriously undercut and diminished by these sins and crimes, but even more by the efforts made to deny or conceal them". But the central point of the Letter must be sought in the answer that he suggests. Pope Francis warns against trusting too much in actions that appear "helpful, good and necessary", and even "correct", but which, if they tend to reduce the response to evil to an organizational problem only, do not have "the ‘flavor’ of the Gospel".
A Church transformed into a "human resources department" does not always have "the ‘flavor’ of the Gospel". Such a Church simply puts its faith in strategies, organizational charts and best practices, instead of trusting, above all, in the presence of the One who has guided it for two thousand years, in the saving power of grace, in the silent day-to-day workings of the Holy Spirit.
For several years now, the Popes have introduced more fitting and stricter rules to combat the phenomenon of abuse: further guidelines will come from the collegial gathering of the Bishops of the whole world united with Peter. But the remedy could prove ineffective if it is not accompanied "by a change in our mind-set (metanoia), our way of praying, our handling of power and money, our exercise of authority and our way of relating to one another and to the world around us".
Credibility is not rebuilt with marketing strategies. It must be the fruit of a Church that knows how to overcome divisions and internal conflicts; a Church whose action springs from its reflection of a light that is not its own, but that is continually given to it; a Church that does not proclaim itself and its own abilities; a Church composed of pastors and faithful who, as the Pope says, recognize themselves as sinners and are called to conversion, precisely because they have experienced, and continue to experience within themselves, forgiveness and mercy.