Pope Francis calls for an ‘all-out battle’ against the evil
ANALYSIS | Gerard O’Connell | In his closing talk to the Vatican summit for the protection of minors on Feb.24, Pope Francis offered a wide-ranging analysis of the plague of the sexual abuse of minors in the world and the Catholic Church. He committed the church to do everything possible to eradicate it from within the church itself and from society as a whole.
“We are facing a universal problem, tragically present almost everywhere and affecting everyone,” Pope Francis said in a 30-minute talk at the end of Mass, which he celebrated in the Sala Regia, next to the Sistine Chapel, with the patriarchs, cardinals, bishops and priests who had participated in the four-day summit on the protection of minors.
Australian Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane gave the homily at the summit’s closing Mass, saying that like Nicolaus Copernicus’ discovery that the earth revolves around the sun, the church is in need of a “Copernican revolution” where “those who have been abused do not revolve around the church but the church around them.”
“In discovering this, we can begin to see with their eyes and to hear with their ears; and once we do that, the world and the church begin to look quite different,” he said. “This is the necessary conversion, the true revolution and the great grace, which can open for the church a new season of mission.”
The church needs a “Copernican revolution” where “those who have been abused do not revolve around the church but the church around them.”
Pope Francis’ talk surprised media commentators because he did not provide any of “the concrete measures” that he had called for at the beginning of the summit on Feb. 21. Informed sources who participated in the summit, however, told America these would come later through a substantial and sustained follow-up to the summit.
In fact at the conclusion of the summit, Frederico Lombardi, S.J., who served as the gathering’s moderator, announced that Pope Francis will issue a motu propio “on the protection of minors and vulnerable persons” and that “this document will accompany a new law of Vatican City State and Guidelines for the Vicariate of Vatican City on the same subject.”
He said in a statement that the pope “has expressed the intention of creating task forces of competent persons to help episcopal conferences and dioceses that find it difficult to confront the problems and produce initiatives for the protection of minors.”
“These first steps are encouraging signs that will accompany us in our mission of preaching the Gospel and of serving all children throughout the world, in mutual solidarity with all people of goodwill who want to abolish every form of violence and abuse against minors,” Father Federico Lombardi said.
In his closing talk, Pope Francis provided data demonstrating that the sexual abuse of minors is prevalent first of all in families. But, he said, the statistics “do not represent the real extent of the phenomenon…because many cases of the sexual abuse of minors go unreported, particularly the great number committed within families.”
“Today we find ourselves before a manifestation of brazen, aggressive and destructive evil.”
He noted that the “anguish tragically leads to bitterness, even suicide, or at times to seek revenge by doing the same thing. The one thing certain is that millions of children in the world are victims of exploitation and of sexual abuse.”
Pope Francis, however, went beyond a review of the data to expose what he has discerned as the underlying force behind all this: “Today we find ourselves before a manifestation of brazen, aggressive and destructive evil. Behind and within, there is the spirit of evil, which in its pride and in its arrogance considers itself the Lord of the world and thinks that it has triumphed.”
Speaking as “pastor of the church,” Pope Francis said: “In these painful cases, I see the hand of evil that does not spare even the innocence of the little ones. And this leads me to think of the example of Herod who, driven by fear of losing his power, ordered the slaughter of all the children of Bethlehem.”
Notwithstanding the worldwide nature of the problem, Pope Francis said, “we need to be clear that while gravely affecting our societies as a whole, this evil is in no way less monstrous when it takes place within the church.”
Indeed, he said, “the brutality of this worldwide phenomenon becomes all the more grave and scandalous in the church, for it is utterly incompatible with her moral authority and ethical credibility.” He emphasized the fact that “consecrated persons, chosen by God to guide souls to salvation, let themselves be dominated by their human frailty or sickness and thus become tools of Satan.”