• on 20th August, 2018


“If one member suffers, all suffer together with it” (*1 Cor *12:26). These
words of Saint Paul forcefully echo in my heart as I acknowledge once more
the suffering endured by many minors due to sexual abuse, the abuse of
power and the abuse of conscience perpetrated by a significant number of
clerics and consecrated persons. Crimes that inflict deep wounds of pain
and powerlessness, primarily among the victims, but also in their family
members and in the larger community of believers and nonbelievers alike.
Looking back to the past, no effort to beg pardon and to seek to repair the
harm done will ever be sufficient. Looking ahead to the future, no effort
must be spared to create a culture able to prevent such situations from
happening, but also to prevent the possibility of their being covered up
and perpetuated. The pain of the victims and their families is also our
pain, and so it is urgent that we once more reaffirm our commitment to
ensure the protection of minors and of vulnerable adults.

1. If one member suffers…

In recent days, a report was made public which detailed the experiences of
at least a thousand survivors, victims of sexual abuse, the abuse of power
and of conscience at the hands of priests over a period of approximately
seventy years. Even though it can be said that most of these cases belong
to the past, nonetheless as time goes on we have come to know the pain of
many of the victims. We have realized that these wounds never disappear and
that they require us forcefully to condemn these atrocities and join forces
in uprooting this culture of death; these wounds never go away. The
heart-wrenching pain of these victims, which cries out to heaven, was long
ignored, kept quiet or silenced. But their outcry was more powerful than
all the measures meant to silence it, or sought even to resolve it by
decisions that increased its gravity by falling into complicity. The Lord
heard that cry and once again showed us on which side he stands. Mary’s
song is not mistaken and continues quietly to echo throughout history. For
the Lord remembers the promise he made to our fathers: “he has scattered
the proud in their conceit; he has cast down the mighty from their thrones
and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the
rich he has sent away empty” (*Lk *1:51-53). We feel shame when we realize
that our style of life has denied, and continues to deny, the words we

With shame and repentance, we acknowledge as an ecclesial community that we
were not where we should have been, that we did not act in a timely manner,
realizing the magnitude and the gravity of the damage done to so many
lives. We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them. I make my
own the words of the then Cardinal Ratzinger when, during the Way of the
Cross composed for Good Friday 2005
he identified with the cry of pain of so many victims and exclaimed: “How
much filth there is in the Church, and even among those who, in the
priesthood, ought to belong entirely to [Christ]! How much pride, how much
self-complacency! Christ’s betrayal by his disciples, their unworthy
reception of his body and blood, is certainly the greatest suffering
endured by the Redeemer; it pierces his heart. We can only call to him from
the depths of our hearts: *Kyrie eleison* – Lord, save us! (cf. *Mt *8:25)”
(Ninth Station).

2. … all suffer together with it

The extent and the gravity of all that has happened requires coming to
grips with this reality in a comprehensive and communal way. While it is
important and necessary on every journey of conversion to acknowledge the
truth of what has happened, in itself this is not enough. Today we are
challenged as the People of God to take on the pain of our brothers and
sisters wounded in their flesh and in their spirit. If, in the past, the
response was one of omission, today we want solidarity, in the deepest and
most challenging sense, to become our way of forging present and future
history. And this in an environment where conflicts, tensions and above all
the victims of every type of abuse can encounter an outstretched hand to
protect them and rescue them from their pain (cf. *Evangelii Gaudium*, 228
Such solidarity demands that we in turn condemn whatever endangers the
integrity of any person. A solidarity that summons us to fight all forms of
corruption, especially spiritual corruption. The latter is “a comfortable
and self-satisfied form of blindness. Everything then appears acceptable:
deception, slander, egotism and other subtle forms of self-centeredness,
for ‘even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light’ (*2 Cor*
11:14)” (*Gaudete
et Exsultate*, 165
Saint Paul’s exhortation to suffer with those who suffer is the best
antidote against all our attempts to repeat the words of Cain: “Am I my
brother’s keeper?” (*Gen *4:9).

I am conscious of the effort and work being carried out in various parts of
the world to come up with the necessary means to ensure the safety and
protection of the integrity of children and of vulnerable adults, as well
as implementing zero tolerance and ways of making all those who perpetrate
or cover up these crimes accountable. We have delayed in applying these
actions and sanctions that are so necessary, yet I am confident that they
will help to guarantee a greater culture of care in the present and future.

Together with those efforts, every one of the baptized should feel involved
in the ecclesial and social change that we so greatly need. This change
calls for a personal and communal conversion that makes us see things as
the Lord does. For as Saint John Paul II
<w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en.html> liked to say: “If we
have truly started out anew from the contemplation of Christ, we must learn
to see him especially in the faces of those with whom he wished to be
identified” (*Novo Millennio Ineunte
49). To see things as the Lord does, to be where the Lord wants us to be,
to experience a conversion of heart in his presence. To do so, prayer and
penance will help. I invite the entire holy faithful People of God to
a *penitential
exercise of prayer and fasting*, following the Lord’s command.[1]
This can awaken our conscience and arouse our solidarity and commitment to
a culture of care that says “never again” to every form of abuse.

It is impossible to think of a conversion of our activity as a Church that
does not include the active participation of all the members of God’s
People. Indeed, whenever we have tried to replace, or silence, or ignore,
or reduce the People of God to small elites, we end up creating
communities, projects, theological approaches, spiritualities and
structures without roots, without memory, without faces, without bodies and
ultimately, without lives.[2]
is clearly seen in a peculiar way of understanding the Church’s authority,
one common in many communities where sexual abuse and the abuse of power
and conscience have occurred. Such is the case with clericalism, an
approach that “not only nullifies the character of Christians, but also
tends to diminish and undervalue the baptismal grace that the Holy Spirit
has placed in the heart of our people”.[3]
whether fostered by priests themselves or by lay persons, leads to an
excision in the ecclesial body that supports and helps to perpetuate many
of the evils that we are condemning today. To say “no” to abuse is to say
an emphatic “no” to all forms of clericalism.

It is always helpful to remember that “in salvation history, the Lord saved
one people. We are never completely ourselves unless we belong to a people.
That is why no one is saved alone, as an isolated individual. Rather, God
draws us to himself, taking into account the complex fabric of
interpersonal relationships present in the human community. God wanted to
enter into the life and history of a people” (*Gaudete et Exsultate*, 6
Consequently, the only way that we have to respond to this evil that has
darkened so many lives is to experience it as a task regarding all of us as
the People of God. 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. Without
the active participation of all the Church’s members, everything being done
to uproot the culture of abuse in our communities will not be successful in
generating the necessary dynamics for sound and realistic change. The
penitential dimension of fasting and prayer will help us as God’s People to
come before the Lord and our wounded brothers and sisters as sinners
imploring forgiveness and the grace of shame and conversion. In this way,
we will come up with actions that can generate resources attuned to the
Gospel. For “whenever we make the effort to return to the source and to
recover the original freshness of the Gospel, new avenues arise, new paths
of creativity open up, with different forms of expression, more eloquent
signs and words with new meaning for today’s world” (*Evangelii Gaudium*, 11

It is essential that we, as a Church, be able to acknowledge and condemn,
with sorrow and shame, the atrocities perpetrated by consecrated persons,
clerics, and all those entrusted with the mission of watching over and
caring for those most vulnerable. Let us beg forgiveness for our own sins
and the sins of others. An awareness of sin helps us to acknowledge the
errors, the crimes and the wounds caused in the past and allows us, in the
present, to be more open and committed along a journey of renewed

Likewise, penance and prayer will help us to open our eyes and our hearts
to other people’s sufferings and to overcome the thirst for power and
possessions that are so often the root of those evils. May fasting and
prayer open our ears to the hushed pain felt by children, young people and
the disabled. A fasting that can make us hunger and thirst for justice and
impel us to walk in the truth, supporting all the judicial measures that
may be necessary. A fasting that shakes us up and leads us to be committed
in truth and charity with all men and women of good will, and with society
in general, to combatting all forms of the abuse of power, sexual abuse and
the abuse of conscience.

In this way, we can show clearly our calling to be “a sign and instrument
of communion with God and of the unity of the entire human race” (*Lumen

“If one member suffers, all suffer together with it”, said Saint Paul. By
an attitude of prayer and penance, we will become attuned as individuals
and as a community to this exhortation, so that we may grow in the gift of
compassion, in justice, prevention and reparation. Mary chose to stand at
the foot of her Son’s cross. She did so unhesitatingly, standing firmly by
Jesus’ side. In this way, she reveals the way she lived her entire life.
When we experience the desolation caused by these ecclesial wounds, we will
do well, with Mary, “to insist more upon prayer”, seeking to grow all the
more in love and fidelity to the Church (SAINT IGNATIUS OF LOYOLA, *Spiritual
Exercises*, 319). She, the first of the disciples, teaches all of us as
disciples how we are to halt before the sufferings of the innocent, without
excuses or cowardice. To look to Mary is to discover the model of a true
follower of Christ.

May the Holy Spirit grant us the grace of conversion and the interior
anointing needed to express before these crimes of abuse our compunction
and our resolve courageously to combat them.

*Vatican City, 20 August 2018 *


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