Pope Francis 'ashamed' the Church didn't listen to Chilean abuse victims

Pope Francis at the general audience in St Peters Square on March 14 2018 Credit Daniel Ibanez 1 CNA Pope Francis at the General Audience in St. Peter's Square, March 14, 2018. | Daniel Ibanez/CNA.

In a letter to Catholics in Chile on Thursday, Pope Francis said he is ashamed of the Church's failure to listen to victims, and urged all the baptized to make a commitment to ending the culture of abuse and cover-up.

"Here resides one of our main faults and omissions: not knowing how to listen to victims," the pope said in his May 31 letter.

Because of this inability to listen, "partial conclusions were drawn, which lacked crucial elements for a healthy and clear discernment," he said, adding that "with shame I must say that we did not know how to listen and react in time."

The need to investigate the Chilean abuse crisis, he said, "was born when we saw that there were situations that we did not know how to see and hear. As a Church we could not continue to walk ignoring the pain of our brothers."

Francis stressed the importance of prayer and the role that the People of God have in the Church, saying that to distance oneself from the People of God "hastens us to the desolation and perversion of ecclesial nature."

"The fight against a culture of abuse requires renewing this certainty," he said, and urged all Christians not to be afraid of being protagonists of change in the Church.

Francis then thanked the organizations and media outlets which he said took on the issue, "always seeking the truth and not making out of this painful reality a means to boost program ratings."

He also said the process of purification the Church is currently living is due not just to recent events, but the whole process is possible thanks to the effort and perseverance of those who, "against all hope and stains of discredit," did not tire of seeking the truth.

"I am referring to the victims of abuses of sexuality, power and authority and to those who at the time believed and accompanied them. Victims whose cry reached the heavens," he said, voicing gratitude for the "courage and perseverance" they have shown.

The "never more" attitude in front of a culture of abuse and the system of cover-up, he said, "demands working among everyone in order to generate a culture of care which permeates our ways of relating, praying, thinking, of living authority; our customs and languages and our relationship with power and money."

Pope Francis then stressed the urgency of generating spaces where a culture of abuse and concealment is not the "dominant scheme," and in which a critical and questioning attitude is not confused with "betrayal."

He then urged all Christians, especially those who work in educational and formational entities and institutions, to pool their resources with civil society in order to find strategic ways of promoting a culture of care and protection.

Abuse and cover-up, he said, are "incompatible with the logic of the Gospel since the salvation offered by Christ is always an offer, a gift which demands and requires freedom," adding that all attempts against freedom and the integrity of the person "are anti-evangelical."

The pope then invited centers of religious formation, faculties of theology, and seminaries to launch a theological reflection capable of rising above the present time and promoting a "mature, adult" faith in the Church.

Communities that are able to fight against abuse and which are internally capable of discussion and even confrontation on the issue are welcome, he said, adding that "we will be fruitful to the extent that we empower and open communities from within and thus free ourselves from closed and self-referential thoughts full of promises and mirages which promise life but which ultimately favor the culture of abuse."

Referring to the popular piety practiced in many communities in Chile, which he called an "invaluable treasure and authentic school of the heart for the people of God," Francis said that in his experience, expressions of popular devotion are "one of the few places where the People of God are sovereign" from the influence of a clericalism which tries to control and limit the laity.

Francis then pointed to all the laity, priests, bishops, and consecrated persons in Chile who have faithfully lived their vocations in love, saying they are Christians who know how to cry with others, to seek justice, and to look with mercy on those who are suffering.

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Pope Francis closed his letter saying a Church that is wounded is capable of understanding and being moved by the wounds of today's world and of both making these wounds their own and accompanying and healing those who bear them.

"A wounded Church does not put itself at the center, does not think it is perfect, does not seek to cover up and dissimulate its evil, but places there the only one who can heal the wounds and he has a name: Jesus Christ."

This certainty is what will prompt people to look for the commitment to ultimately and in time generate a culture where every person "has the right to breathe an air free of every kind of abuse."

He urged the entire People of God not to be afraid to get involved and walk, driven by the Holy Spirit in search of a Church "which is increasingly more synodal, prophetic and hopeful," and which is ultimately "less abusive because it knows to put Jesus at the center in the hungry, in the prisoner, in the migrant, in the abused."

Francis' letter coincided with the start of the pope's second round of meetings with Chilean abuse survivors.

The group, consisting of five priests and two laypersons who suffered either sexual abuse or abuse of power or conscience by Karadima, and two priests who have accompanied the victims, will be in Rome over the weekend to discuss the country's abuse crisis with the pope.

Francis' letter comes after a months-long process of addressing the Chilean abuse crisis following an in-depth investigation carried out by Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta and Msgr. Jordi Bertomeu, from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith.

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The investigation was initially centered around Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno, appointed to the diocese in 2015 and accused by at least one victim of covering up abuses of Fr. Fernando Karadima.

In 2011, Karadima was convicted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of abusing minors and sentenced to a life of prayer and solitude. Allegations of cover-up were also made against three other bishops – Andrés Arteaga, Tomislav Koljatic and Horacio Valenzuela – whom Karadima's victims accuse of knowing about Karadima's crimes and failing to act.

Pope Francis initially defended Barros, saying he had received no evidence of the bishop's guilt, and called accusations against him "calumny" during a trip to Chile in January. However, after receiving Scicluna's report, Francis apologized in an April 8 letter to the Chilean bishops, and asked to meet the prelates and more outspoken survivors in person.

A few weeks, later, Francis held both private and group meetings with three of Karadima's most outspoken victims – Juan Carlos Cruz, James Hamilton and Andres Murillo – at the Vatican April 27-29.

Two weeks later, the pope met with all of Chile's active bishops in Rome, some of whom have also been accused of cover-up, to discuss the conclusions of Scicluna's report and to share his own reflections on the crisis.

During the May 15-17 meeting, Francis criticized the 34 bishops present for systematic cover-up of clerical abuse in Chile, and urged them to refocus, putting Christ at the center of their mission.

The gathering concluded with all of Chile's active bishops offering a written resignation to Francis, which he will either accept or deny. So far, there has been no news of the pope's decision.

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