Letter to Pope Francis
[See also a PDF of the Letter to Pope Francis.]
His Holiness Pope Francis
P.O. Box 279
Livingston, New Jersey 07039
Bishop of Rome
Vatican City State, Europe
April 29, 2013
Feast of St. Catherine of Siena
From the convictions of our conscience we wish to make known for the good of the Church, you and the Christian faithful the experience we have lived regarding the ongoing clergy sexual abuse crisis and scandal.
Pope Francis, like the beggar whom the Lord passed by on the street (Lk18:35) but who nonetheless called out for healing, we call out to you. The beggar was shunned by the apostles who attempted to silence him, to hide his hideous disfigurement from the Lord as if he might disfigure the one who created him. The beggar refused to be cast into silence for he knew his healing could only come from the dispenser of the divine mercy. Like this poor disfigured beggar we call out to you from the side of the road, we who have been cast off, the apostles telling us to be silent. Please, Pope Francis, do not pass us by.
From the start, the apostles had the duty to sanctify and heal the faithful in their journey as companions of Christ. In other words, throughout the Church’s history the pope and the other bishops, as successors to Saint Peter and the apostles, are to be spiritual leaders who strengthen all of the faithful in their missionary efforts. The faithful trust that the pope and the other bishops will fulfill that responsibility.
During the past decades this previously embraced level of trust has been severely damaged, although not irreversibly so, by the crisis of clergy sexual abuse of children, adolescents, and vulnerable adults. This damage has grown into a full-blown scandal because of a self-righteous spirit of injustice, and the commitment to secrecy that many bishops and other Church leaders have demonstrated. This behavior has adversely influenced the religious practice of many persons, a scandal that hinders the mission of the Church.
In this letter we speak to the damage inflicted by clergy sexual abuse and present some recommendations that would contribute positively to rebuilding trust among the Christian faithful.
Whether committed by force or by seduction, every act of sexual abuse of a child, an adolescent, or a vulnerable adult by a priest is a crime, both in civil law and in Church law. We must speak about these actions first as crimes against the dignity of the human person. This must be the starting point for addressing this crisis.
Moreover, it is wise to keep in mind the injury caused by sexual abuse: that for many victims/survivors their lives have been changed and reaching their full potential has become more challenging, especially as the trauma of the violence and the countless hours of tears and depression are recalled; that the voice to speak about the assault so as to seek help and to demand justice frequently has been stymied by the perpetrator and silenced by Christ’s Shepherds. Their ability to trust has been deflated, at times resulting in a reduced ability to enter meaningful adult relationships; and their participation in the Church can become limited or even lost. Many have become lost sheep and yearn for the shepherd to find them and carry them home.
We can never forget those overcome by despair; we speak of those victim/survivors who abuse drugs and alcohol and those who tragically became victim-suicides.
While some people believe that the Church leadership has responded well to the crisis, many victims/survivors strongly disagree. Actually, they say that reaction of the Church to the abuse has been more painful than was the pain caused by the sexual assault itself. Ponder that point! In so many ways the Church that the victims loved and participated in has turned a blind eye and a deaf ear towards them, and at times has tried to make the victims be seen as the villains, with the bishops and other Church leaders sympathetically proposing themselves to be seen as the victims. No, the victims of clergy sexual abuse are the victims – not the bishops or Church leaders. For this reason, without a doubt, the Church’s sexual abuse crisis and scandal live on today as strong as ever.
Pope Francis, do not pass us by on the Camino. Throughout the years we and other people like us have encountered apostles chastising us to silence, and we have been unable to penetrate the will of decision-makers in the Church so that they would resolve this crisis and scandal. You can make a difference: do not pass us by but elect to show us mercy. You can change the Church’s response. You can rebuild trust and begin to bring about the necessary healing of the Body of Christ. Walk with us and allow us to participate in the re-building, and together on the Camino we can make a great witness.
To do so, your priority must be increasing the knowledge of the truth and the doing of justice so as to bring forth healing and peace. Compromise or popularity must not be a concern.
Here are six recommendations concerning increasing the knowledge of the truth and the doing of justice:
1) Most importantly establish within the Holy See an international body composed of Survivors of Clergy Sexual Abuse, lay professionals and clergy who will be responsible for the facilitation in all dioceses of a dialogue between the Church and victims/survivors of clergy sexual abuse, so as to nurture understanding. No one understands victims/survivors better than victims/survivors. Do not pass us by but elect to show us mercy.
2) Revoke any oaths or pledges to secrecy by Church leaders while requiring them to provide thorough public explanations of all incidents of clergy sexual abuse.
3) Require all those who shepherd the flock of the Lord to make accessible to public scrutiny all documents and files related to clergy sexual abuse.
4) Remove from ecclesial office all Church leaders who facilitated the commission of clergy sexual abuse, obstructed justice regarding clergy sexual abuse, and/or destroyed information of any sort that could have served the cause of justice in clergy sexual abuse matters.
5) Require zero tolerance so as to remove from the ranks of the clergy and professed religious all those who in fact have committed sexual abuse of a child, an adolescent, or a vulnerable adult.
6) Compel all in Church leadership to the doing of justice. The common good of the Church and of the society must be taken into account, along with the equity between the parties that must include restitution and reparation.
Finally, Pope Francis, as the increased knowledge of the truth leads to justice, and justice in turn enhances healing and peace, the sexual abuse crisis and scandal will subside, trust by the faithful in the bishops will return, and the ability for the faithful to fully participate in the mission of the Church will be strengthened. Like the beggar on side of the street we call out to you. Do not pass us by but show us your mercy. We make our prayer through the intercession of Our Lady Undoer of Knots.
We have the honor to be, Your Holiness,
Catholic Whistleblowers represented by: Rev. John P. Bambrick (Jackson, NJ), Sr. Sally Butler, OP (Brooklyn, NY), Rev. Patrick Collins, Ph.D (Douglas, MI), Rev. James Connell (Sheboygan, WI), Rev. Thomas Doyle, OP (Vienna, VA), Robert M. Hoatson, Ph.D. (West Orange, NJ), Rev. Msgr. Kenneth E. Lasch, J.C.D. (Morristown, NJ), Rev. Ronald D. Lemmert (Peekskill, NY), Sr. Maureen Paul Turlish, SNDdeN (New Castle, DE)