Editor’s note: This editorial is from the April 25 issue of The Compass, a diocesan newspaper in Green Bay, Wisconsin. It was written by Sam Lucero, news and information manager at The Compass, and reprinted by Catholic News Service on May 2, 2018.
Forgiveness is a message Pope Francis has preached to us quite often.
In mid-April, Pope Francis found himself asking for forgiveness from Chilean survivors of clergy of sexual abuse.
“I ask forgiveness of all those I have offended,” Pope Francis said in a letter to the bishops of Chile, which was released by the Vatican April 11.
The letter came after a Vatican appointed investigator, Archbishop Charles J. Scicluna of Malta, issued a report on the sex abuse scandal in Chile. While on a pastoral visit to Chile last January, Pope Francis spoke about his regret for the scandal, but defended a Chilean bishop accused of covering up the scandal.
“The day they bring me proof against Bishop (Juan) Barros, I will speak. There is not one piece of evidence against him,” the pope told reporters, adding that the accusations were slanderous.
He later apologized for his harsh words and then appointed Archbishop Scicluna to investigate the case involving Bishop Barros. While a priest, Bishop Barros is accused of witnessing abuse of minors by Father Fernando Karadima, which the bishop has denied. Father Karadima was convicted of pedophilia in 2011 and sentenced to a life of penitence and prayer.
For survivors of sexual abuse, the pope’s initial reaction was all too familiar and brought back painful memories. When presented with Archbishop Scicluna’s report, Pope Francis stated that after a “careful reading” of testimonies, “I believe I can affirm that all the testimonies collected speak in a stark way … of many crucified lives and, I confess, it has caused me pain and shame.”
“As for my own responsibility, I acknowledge, and I want you to faithfully convey it that way, that I have made serious mistakes in the assessment and perception of the situation, especially because of the lack of truthful and balanced information,” Pope Francis told the Chilean bishops.
Pope Francis has called the Chilean bishops to meet with him the Vatican in May to discuss the report’s conclusions. He has also invited several survivors to meet with him.
The pope’s call for forgiveness from victims/survivors of clergy sexual abuse is a good step in healing. His meeting with Chilean bishops could lead to more concrete steps, and possibly the resignation of clerics involved in covering up abuse.
What should also take place is prayers for healing. In 2016, Pope Francis called for a Worldwide Day of Prayer for Sexual Abuse Survivors. As long as the church is faced with reports of sexual abuse, annual days of prayer should continue.
Perhaps Pope Francis could follow the example of our own shepherd, Bishop David Ricken, who has held a prayer service each April (observed as Sexual Assault Awareness Month) since 2014 seeking forgiveness for the wounds of clergy sexual abuse.
A highlight of the prayer service is an act of repentance, in which Bishop Ricken removes all the symbols of his episcopal office (vestments, crucifix and ring) and, clad in a simple white alb, lays on the floor, prostrating himself before the altar for several minutes. It’s a powerful, symbolic gesture that expresses sorrow on behalf of the church for the pain and anguish suffered by those hurt by clergy sexual abuse.
The church has come a long way in combatting sexual abuse, but as the crisis in Chile shows, the battle continues. We should remember and pray for all victims of sexual abuse, and for Pope Francis as he meets with Chilean bishops and victims/survivors.