By Andrea Tornielli
“Behind this, there is Satan”. Pope Francis added this sentence “off-the-cuff” during his concluding address at the Meeting for the Protection of Minors. At the end of the Mass in the Sala Regia, still robed in the liturgical vestments, the Pope spoke in a courageous and realistic way about this disgusting phenomenon. “In these painful cases”, he said, “I see the hand of evil that does not spare even the innocence of the little ones. And this leads me to think of the example of Herod who, driven by fear of losing his power, ordered the slaughter of all the children of Bethlehem”. Already in the past, during a discussion with journalists on the airplane, Pope Francis had compared abuse to a “black Mass”. And so, “Behind this, there is Satan”, the hand of evil. Recognizing this does not mean forgetting all the explanations, or diminishing the personal responsibility of individuals, and collectively of the institution. It means situating it in a more profound context.
In his address, the Pope spoke about abuse in the world, not only in the Church. But this was in order to manifest the concern of a father and a pastor who does not intend in the least to diminish the gravity of abuse perpetrated in the ecclesial sphere, because the abominable inhumanity of the phenomenon becomes “all the more grave and scandalous in the Church”. Parents who had entrusted their daughters and sons to priests in order to educate them by introducing them to a life of faith, saw them return with body and soul irreparably and permanently wounded. “Indeed, in people’s justified anger”, the Pope explained, “the Church sees the reflection of the wrath of God, betrayed and insulted by these deceitful consecrated persons”.
The silent cry of the abused, the incurable drama of lives destroyed by consecrated persons transformed into corrupt and irrational ogres, resounded thunderously in the Synod Hall. It has pierced the hearts of the Bishops and religious superiors. It has swept away justifications, juridical evasions, the coldness of technical discussions, the will to seek refuge in statistics. The absolute gravity of the phenomenon has become part of the conscience of the universal Church, as never before.
Pope Francis, in his concluding address, thanked the many priests and religious who dedicate their lives to proclaiming the Gospel; to educating and protecting the little ones and the defenceless, giving their own lives in following Jesus. Looking the abyss of evil in the face cannot make us forget the good, not because of useless bursts of pride, but because of the need to know where to look and who to follow as an example.
But the meeting in the Vatican was not only a punch in the gut that rendered the participants more conscious of the devastating action of evil and of sin, and then of the necessity of asking forgiveness, invoking the help of divine grace; it also gave proof of the firm will to give concrete form to what has emerged in these past few days, with effective operative choices. May the awareness of the gravity of sin, and the constant appeal to Heaven to implore help that characterized the Meeting in the Vatican, go hand-in-hand with a renewed and practical commitment, to ensure that church environments are increasingly safe for minors and for vulnerable adults, in the hope that this commitment might spread to all the other sectors of society as well.