Monday, Pope Francis made a long-overdue but welcome statement about the Catholic Church and its history of child abuse. The letter comes as a direct reaction to a report released on Aug. 14, which revealed systematic cover-ups of sexual abuse dating back 70 years in a Pennsylvania Catholic Church.
Throughout his statement, Pope Francis weaves a message of unity, in guilt and in repentance. He states the hypocrisy of the Church’s words with its actions in this case and admits a lack of empathy in the Church’s past. The crimes are described as shameful and as a betrayal of Christ. This comes with a recognition of the irreparable damage to the victims, as he writes: “We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them.”
In the second section of his letter, Pope Francis calls for a joint effort in moving forward. Acknowledgement is not enough to solve the problem and stop it from recurring. He tells his parishioners that instead of ignoring the abuse, they must all carry the burdens of the victims. This requires a solidarity that “demands that we in turn condemn whatever endangers the integrity of any person.” Although it’s taken a considerable time, Francis is optimistic that this attitude, combined with worldwide efforts, will create real change within the Church as well as our society.
Leading by example, the Pope goes on to condemn the abuse of power, calling it an evil. In his eyes, this abuse has created a divide in the Church that fosters sin. All members of the Church must denounce these crimes in order to move forward; Pope Francis declares that “this awareness of being part of a people and a shared history will enable us to acknowledge our past sins and mistakes with a penitential openness that can allow us to be renewed from within.” In closing, Pope Francis calls again for a recognition and admonishment of abuse in the Church.