The following is an open letter to one of the world’s most influential leaders. All thoughts and opinions expressed herein belong solely to the author and in no way reflect those of the T&T Guardian or Guardian Media Limited.
To His Holiness, Pope Francis, Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Christ.
Most Holy Father,
I am but one member of the worldwide Roman Catholic community; one voice amongst many. And though I do not presume to speak on behalf of the one billion-plus adherents of the faith, I have been moved by recent events to write to you and express my disappointment, respectfully, of course. It is my sincere hope that the Lenten season will add a measure of gravitas to this epistle.
The sex abuse scandal continues to cast a foreboding shadow over our church. Immediately following last August’s damaging report on the Pennsylvania Diocese, which revealed not only the endemic nature of these crimes but the extent to which the cover-ups were perpetrated, you convened a special conference at the Vatican which finally took place three weekends ago. In attendance were some 200 cardinals, all gathered for the purpose of discussing the implementation of measures to protect minors from predatory clergymen. The conference was concluded after just four days—four days filled with florid speeches and token promises…with the church no closer emerging from the shadow of this disgusting, longstanding scandal and into the light of redemption and reconciliation.
In all honesty, I didn’t know what to expect from this meeting. A problem that has gone on for decades (if not longer) surely couldn’t be solved during the course of a single weekend. But I can’t believe that the best you and your priestly fraternity were able to come up with was a “handbook” containing guidelines on how to handle cases of abuse. This speaks to the core of the church’s hubris—the erroneous belief that it is a law unto itself. Crimes were committed, Your Holiness, crimes against those most vulnerable, committed by those most trusted. The reputation of the many who diligently serve has been brought low by the actions of the few who served their sick desires. Priests were once considered to be of unquestionable character. But nowadays they are just as likely to be viewed with suspicion, adding another layer of hardship to an already difficult vocation. It begs the question of whether this has contributed to the shortage of seminarians and the decline of church membership and attendance.
Tools of Satan
You described these vile acts as “tools of Satan”. In keeping with that analogy, I’m starting to wonder if the intention of the Curia is to bury this “toolbox” in the hope that all will be forgotten in time. Are you simply waiting for the generation of abuse survivors to die out so that the memory of this dark stain will slip into the annals of history, to be treated with the same detachment as the church’s silent acceptance of slavery in the new world? Even worse—and it pains me to even entertain this notion—but is it that the Vatican’s slow pace and clumsy handling of the scandal hides an insidious purpose? Could it be that some of the former participants in this conspiracy of silence now serve in the upper echelons of the church’s hierarchy?
Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the archbishop of Munich, even admitted during the conference that, “Files that could have documented the terrible deeds and named those responsible were destroyed or not even created.” Cui bono, Pater?
Whether this was the result of priests looking out for each other or bishops safeguarding their turf, it is clear that those concerns were placed above the well-being of the congregation. The hypocrisy of the church has thus been laid bare. You yourself have repeatedly beseeched the Roman Catholic community for forgiveness while avoiding the redress of justice for the victims. Indeed it is paramount for the church to work towards ensuring that such a scandal never occurs again, but it can’t do so without properly atoning for the mistakes of the past. And that, Your Holiness, is where you have faltered in both your leadership and in the exercise of papal authority.
At the risk of overstating the obvious—a central tenet of our faith is the Sacrament of Penance. We are all called upon to confess our sins and express contrition; then, and only then, may we receive absolution. This triumvirate is inseparable. But you and other church officials have only undertaken the second component with the expectation of receiving the third. To date, there has never been a full and unconditional confession. There have been some disclosures, along with the isolated conviction—as was the recent cases involving Australian Cardinal, George Pell; and French Cardinal, Philippe Barbarin—but the fact remains that the majority of the offenders (and the conspirators who enabled them) have escaped prosecution. They were allowed to live out the rest of their lives in relative peace while their victims had to bear the trauma of the abuse; most times in silence.
It will be folly to presume that the Roman Catholic Church will survive based solely on the faith and obedience of its followers; the numbers say otherwise. The church runs the risk of being caught standing still in a world that is constantly changing. This isn’t a debate about the virtue of dogma…this is about justice—plain and simple, no more and no less.
Last week you announced the opening of the Vatican archives for the reign of Pope Pius XII (1939 to 1958), to shed light on the Reichskonkordat—the Concordat between the Holy See and the German Reich, and to determine whether he did enough to protect European Jews from the Holocaust. You can use that same authority, as vested in your office, to order every diocese with records pertaining to the abuse scandal to make them accessible to the public. This is something that neither of your predecessors—John Paul II and Benedict XVI—chose to do. But undertaking this action will send the unequivocal message that the church is truly committed to transparency. And it would finally bring closure to those in our church who have suffered for far too long.
An entire generation of Catholics has grown up knowing of the church’s shame. Don’t let it be passed onto the next one.
I have the honour to profess myself with the most profound respect, your Holiness’ most obedient and humble servant.