Pope Francis met yesterday with just a few of the many victims of the clerical sex abuse scandal in the Vatican at private audiences in his residence at the St. Martha House. Yesterday, some of the came from Ireland, Great Britain, and Germany-three men and three women. These meetings needed to happen, because the victims of abuse need to know, whoever they are and wherever they are, that no matter who they believe may have enabled their abusers in the past, the man who holds the Church’s highest office on earth is their friend and ally today. Further, that the Pope is doing everything that he can to root out abuse in the Church wherever it might be found, whether it is the sexual abuse of children or adults, other kinds of abuse of children, elder abuse, or whatever kind of abuse one can think of. That doesn’t mean that we’ll never hear of other cases of abuse, but it does mean that the Church will move to deal swiftly with abusers, and that is as it must be. Abuse within the walls of the Church cannot be tolerated precisely because the Church is the Body of Christ.
The Holy Father asked forgiveness of the victims for those Church leaders who failed to adequately respond when young people have or had been abused, something that the Church needs to do. It is true, as many have said, that the Church has endured far worse crises and far greater scandals in 2,000 years, and we are still here, and we will continue to be here because Jesus promised that the gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church, so certainly the aftermath of the abuse crisis will not prevail, either. However, we would not be Christians, but callous prudes if we did not allow for the nature and scale of what has happened to utterly change the way we think and act and approach the children of our Church. If we do not submit ourselves to what can only be seen as the reaping of what has been sown and the chastisement of the Holy Spirit for the past indifference of some, we will have failed in our witness to the Gospel that we as the Body of Christ are seeking to proclaim. That has meant that we’ve needed to take many extra steps and precautions, including our Virtus: Protecting God’s Children training program, as well as other opportunities to raise awareness about any potential for abuse.
The Holy Father is clearly trying to create a climate where the command of Jesus can be carried out (cf. Mt. 19:14).
“Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”
Pope Francis clearly longs for the day when the Church and her ministers can again be a trusted safe harbor for all of the world’s children. Let us work and pray together with the Holy Father to bring that day about.