“I wish to share with you the profound pain I feel in my soul for the situation of abused children,” Pope Francis wrote in a text provided to members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors at its meeting September 21, 2017 in the Apostolic Vatican Palace.
“The scandal of sexual abuse is truly a terrible ruin for the whole of humanity, and which affects so many vulnerable children, young people and adults in all countries and in all societies,” according to the Holy Father. He went on to state that abuse has been “a very painful experience for the Church,” noting that “We feel shame for the abuses committed by sacred ministers, who should be the most worthy of trust”
The Holy Father stressed the theme of mercy, noting that the Church “is called to be a place of mercy and compassion, especially for those who have suffered.” He reiterated that, “For all of us, the Catholic Church continues to be a field hospital that accompanies us in our spiritual itinerary.”
The Holy Father’s Text
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I give you a warm welcome at the beginning of this Plenary Assembly. In particular, I would like to thank Cardinal O’Malley for his kind greeting while expressing to you at the same time my sincere appreciation for the reflections that in your name, Mr Hermengild Makoro and Mr. Bill Kilgallon have presented. They have expressed very well the role I thought for the Commission when I formed it three years ago, a service that I hope will continue to be of great help in the coming years for the Pope, the Holy See, the Bishops and the Major Superiors of the whole world.
Gathered here today, I wish to share with you the profound pain I feel in my soul for the situation of abused children, as I have already had the occasion to do recently on several occasions. The scandal of sexual abuse is truly a terrible ruin for the whole of humanity, and which affects so many vulnerable children, young people and adults in all countries and in all societies. It has also been a very painful experience for the Church. We feel shame for the abuses committed by sacred ministers, who should be the most worthy of trust, but we have also experienced a call, which we are sure comes directly from Our Lord Jesus Christ, to take up the mission of the Church for the protection of all vulnerable minors and adults.
Permit me to say with all clarity that sexual abuse is a horrible sin, completely opposed and in contradiction to what Christ and the Church teach us. I have had the privilege, here in Rome, to listen to the stories that victims and survivors of abuses have wished to share. In those meetings, they shared openly the effects that sexual abuse has caused in their lives and in that of their families. I know that you have also had the blessed occasion to take part in similar meetings, and that <such meetings> continue to nourish your personal commitment to do everything possible to combat this evil and to eliminate this ruin from among us.
Therefore, I reiterate once again today that the Church will respond, at all levels, with the implementation of the firmest measures to all those that have betrayed their calling and have abused God’s children. The disciplinary measures that the particular Churches have adopted must be applied to all those that work in the Church’s institutions. However, the primordial responsibility is that of the Bishops, priests and Religious, of those who received from the Lord the vocation to offer their lives to service, including the vigilant protection of all vulnerable children, young people and adults. For this reason, the Church will apply irrevocably at all levels the principle of “zero tolerance” for the sexual abuse of minors.
The Motu Proprio As Loving Mother, promulgated on the basis of a proposal of your Commission and in reference to the principle of responsibility in the Church, addresses the cases of diocesan Bishops, Eparchs and Major Superiors of Religious Institutes that, due to negligence, have engaged in or omitted acts that were able to cause grave harm to others, whether it is physical persons or a community as a whole (Cf. Article 1).
Over the last three years, the Commission has emphasized constantly the most important principles that guide the Church’s efforts to protect all vulnerable minors and adults. Thus it has fulfilled the mission that I entrusted to it as “consultative function at the service of the Holy Father,” offering its experience “in order to promote the responsibility of the particular Churches in the protection of all vulnerable minors and adults” (Statute, Article 1).
I was filled with joy to learn that many particular Churches have adopted your recommendation for a Day of Prayer, and for dialogue with the victims and survivors of abuses, as well as with representatives of the victims’ organizations. They shared with us how these meetings have been a profound experience of grace worldwide, and I sincerely hope that all the particular Churches will benefit from them.
It is also encouraging to know how many Episcopal Conferences and Conferences of Major Superiors have sought your advice in regard to the Guidelines for the protection of vulnerable minors and adults. Your collaboration in sharing the best practices is truly valuable, especially for those Churches that have fewer resources for this crucial work of protection. I would like to encourage you to continue your collaboration in this work with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, so that these practices are enculturated in the different Churches worldwide.
Finally, I would like to praise with special emphasis the numerous opportunities of apprenticeship, education and formation that you have offered in so many particular Churches worldwide and also here in Rome, in the different Dicasteries of the Holy See, in the course for new Bishops and in various international congresses. I’m pleased with the news that the presentation that Cardinal O’Malley and Mrs Marie Collins — one of your founding members –, made last week to the new Bishops was received so favourably. These educational programs offer the type of resources that will enable the Dioceses, Religious Institutes and all Catholic institutions, to adopt and implement the most effective materials for this work.
The Church is called to be a place of mercy and compassion, especially for those who have suffered. For all of us, the Catholic Church continues to be a field hospital that accompanies us in our spiritual itinerary. It’s the place where we can sit with others, listen to them and share with them our struggles and our faith in the Good News of Jesus Christ. I am fully confident that the Commission will continue to be a place where we can listen with interest to the voices of the victims and the survivors, because we have much to learn form them and from their personal stories of courage and perseverance.
Permit me to thank you once again for your efforts and advice over these three years. I entrust you to the Most Holy Virgin Mary, the Mother who remains close to us throughout our lives. I give you all and our dear ones the Apostolic Blessing, and I ask you to continue praying for me.
[Original text: Spanish] [Zenit’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]