The efforts to conceal the sexual abuses undercut the Church’s credibility

U.S. bishops receive Communion during Mass as they are on retreat suggested by Pope Francis to rebuild trust among the faithful as questions continue to revolve around their handling of clergy sex abuse. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

In an 8-page letter to the US Bishops meeting in a week-long retreat to discern the sex abuse crisis, Pope Francis noted that the efforts to conceal and deny them have undercut the credibility of the Church.

The letter published by the US Bishops Conference was written on new year on the eve of the retreat which is being conducted by the Papal House Preacher, Fr Raniero Cantalamessa. In his letter the Pontiff called for conversion and fraternal communion and not just administrative solutions.

He encouraged the Bishops in their prayers and in the steps they are taking  to combat the culture of abuse and to deal with this crisis of credibility.

“At times of great confusion and uncertainty,” he writes, “we need to be attentive and discerning, to free our hearts of compromises and false certainties, in order to hear what the Lord asks of us in the mission He has given us.” He warned that while many actions may be “helpful, good, and necessary,” they may not have “the ‘flavor’ of the Gospel.” “To put it colloquially,” he says, “we have to be careful that ‘the cure does not become worse than the disease’.”

In his letter the Pope notes that “the Church’s credibility has been seriously undercut” by abuse of power and conscience, and by sexual abuse; “but even more by the efforts made to conceal and deny them. The attempt to cover-up such “sins and crimes enabled them to fester and cause even greater harm.”

Vatican News quoted the Pope saying that “combating the culture of abuse, the loss of credibility, the resulting bewilderment and confusion, and the discrediting of our mission urgently demand of us a renewed and decisive approach,” which cannot be reduced simply to “issuing stern degrees,” or “creating new committees or improving flowcharts. A new ecclesial season needs bishops who can teach others how to discern God’s presence in the history of His people, and not mere administrators.”

He insisted that “our primary duty is to foster a shared spirit of discernment.” This, he continues, “will enable us to be fully immersed in reality, seeking to appreciate and hear it from within, without being held hostage to it.”

This renewal involves “an awareness of our being sinners in need of constant conversion” which will “allow us to enter into affective communion with our people.” This “demands of us the decision to abandon a modus operandi of disparaging, discrediting, playing the victim or the scold in our relationships, and instead to make room for the gentle breeze that the Gospel alone can offer.”

In his letter Pope Francis insisted that, “hope is born of trust, and trust is born of sincere, humble and generous service to all, but especially to those dearest to the Lord’s heart.”

“How sublime is the task at hand,” the Pope says to the Bishops. “We cannot keep silent or downplay it because of our own limitations and faults.”

Quoting Mother Theresa, he says “Yes, I have many human faults and failures… but God bends down and uses us, you and me, to be His love and His compassion in the world; He bears our sins, our troubles, and our faults.”