by MICHAEL BAUMANN
“The beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms.” – Socrates
An article on the Vatican Radio’s Website reported on a request from Pope Francis for forgiveness for the priests who committed sexual crimes against children. During his prepared remarks to members of BICE [International Catholic Child Bureau] whom he received on 11 April 2014 in an in audience at the Vatican, he deviated from the prepared text. That deviation for his text was captured in the English translation of the Pontiff’s prepared statement provided by Vatican Radio:
…. I feel compelled to personally take on all the evil which some priests, quite a few in number, obviously not compared to the number of all the priests, to personally ask for forgiveness for the damage they have done for having sexually abused children. The Church is aware of this damage, it is personal, moral damage carried out by men of the Church, and we will not take one step backward with regards to how we will deal with this problem, and the sanctions that must be imposed. On the contrary, we have to be even stronger. Because you cannot interfere with children…
Before I start this conversation I am being mindful of my fellow survivors and their families, some are no longer here because of the damage caused by predator priests. We have been subjected to endless promises of reform and lies about accountability. This is important to me as survivor of rape by a priest of the Roman Catholic Church. At the risk of appearing to be hopeful enough that these questions will somehow come to the attention of Pope Francis, I will address my questions to him directly.
Your Holiness, I have some questions I must ask so that I can understand the meaning and intent in your words. Holy Father, from who are you asking forgiveness? An honest question, I promise you. I am convinced of your sincerity when you say you “feel the compelled to personally take on all the evil.” If you do so, why do you qualify your statement by saying that the number of predator priests are “quite a few” in number but not when compared to the total number of priests? Your Holiness, you start off by marginalizing the depth of the crisis. Why should I trust what you go on to say next?
Are you asking survivors/victims for forgiveness? Are you asking your Church? Are you asking us to forgive those who committed such heinous acts of depravity that destroyed our trust, our faith and injured our beings? Or are you asking us to forgive those that hid and protected these monsters? Are you asking us to forgive those, both religious and laity who have expended the treasure of the church to support evil and attack us, as if we were the cause of the crimes committed against us. They painted us as monsters or opportunists looking for an easy pay out. Are you asking for forgiveness for the marginalization of our suffering, the suffering of our families, the lost potential of our shattered lives? Are you asking for forgiveness for the irreparable damage and damnation of those who chose not to right a wrong but to isolate and vilify the survivors? Are you asking forgiveness for those who put the comfort of the church ahead of the safety of children?
Holy Father, it does not matter if there are a relatively small number of predator priest relative to the total number priests in the church. It does matter that many of your Bishops chose to mitigate risk and protect predators instead of maximizing justice and protecting children. You say the church is aware of the damage and that you cannot take one step back. Until you take one step forward, your Church will remain aware but ineffective and uncaring. Until you take action to cut the cancer of protection for predators from the ranks of your bishops your Church will not be stronger.
You speak of sanctions. You want to take action to deal with the problem. Your Holiness, with great respect I ask you, what are you willing to do? My Catholic education instructs me that forgiveness is earned through acts of contrition. The words are hollow if they do not come with action, with change and with the will to live a life that is true to the values and faith that you profess.
Words are important. Words have meaning. Holy Father, please show me that your words are sincere and that you will finally take the action necessary to protect children and vulnerable adults. Unless there is an accounting, unless the truth is more important than the comfort of those that have protected predator priests, your words will be lost on the wind.
Show me your commitment, your actions, the meaning in your words.