U.S. Catholic bishops should stop playing the victim and do something to end the “culture of abuse,” Pope Francis said in a letter from Rome Thursday.
The pontiff addressed his eight-page letter to the U.S. ecclesiastic heads, writing: “These have been times of turbulence in the lives of all those victims who suffered in their flesh the abuse of power and conscience and sexual abuse on the part of ordained ministers, male and female religious and lay faithful.
“The Church’s credibility has been seriously undercut and diminished by these sins and crimes, but even more by the efforts to deny or conceal them.
“God’s faithful people and the Church’s mission continue to suffer greatly as a result of abuses of power and conscience and sexual abuse, and the poor way that they were handled.”
Rather than trying to remedy the issue and reconcile with victims, the religious bicker and point fingers, he said, thereby “enabling” the actions to continue in impunity.
“We know that the sins and crimes that were committed; and their repercussions on the ecclesial, social and cultural levels, have deeply affected the faithful… Clearly, a living fabric has come undone, and we, like weavers, are called to repair it,” the pope said.
But a new approach to management isn’t enough, Pope Francis continued. To repair the damage, the clergy must completely alter their mindset, “abandon a modus operandi of disparaging, discrediting, playing the victim or the scold in our relationships.”
A U.S. grand jury report recently found credible allegations against more than 300 predator priests and identified over 1,000 victims during decades of child sex abuse covered up by the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania. As a result of the church cover-up, almost every instance of abuse was too old to be prosecuted, the report said.
The victims “were brushed aside, in every part of the state, by church leaders who preferred to protect the abusers and their institution above all,” it concluded.
Pope Francis has organized a conference in February in the Vatican, with bishops urged as part of preparations to “reach out and visit with victims of sexual abuse… to learn firsthand the suffering that they have endured.”