Pope Francis has written a letter of encouragement to the priests of the world, thanking them for serving “‘in the trenches” in a difficult moment in the Church’s history and for “confronting an endless variety of situations in your effort to care for and accompany God’s people”.
Driving the news
In his letter, published today on the 160th anniversary of the death of the patron saint of parish priests, St. John Vianney, the Pope expresses his concern that, in the midst of the Church’s ongoing sex abuse crisis, “in more than a few places, our priests feel themselves attacked and blamed for crimes they did not commit”.
“In these years, we have become more attentive to the cry, often silent and suppressed, of our brothers and sisters who were victims of the abuse of power, the abuse of conscience and sexual abuse on the part of ordained ministers”, writes the Pope.
“This has been a time of great suffering in the lives of those who experienced such abuse, but also in the lives of their families and of the entire People of God”, Francis laments.
The Pope repeats in his letter the Church’s commitment “to carrying out the reforms needed to encourage from the outset a culture of pastoral care, so that the culture of abuse will have no room to develop, much less continue”.
Francis affirms that “if in the past, omission may itself have been a kind of response, today we desire conversion, transparency, sincerity and solidarity with victims to become our concrete way of moving forward”.
The Church’s conversion from the culture of the cover-up is a task Bergoglio admits “is neither quick nor easy”.
But “this pain has also affected priests”, continues the Pope, adding that he has seen it first-hand in the course of pastoral visits and in meetings and personal conversations with priests.
“Many have shared with me their outrage at what happened and their frustration”, laments the Pope.
But “without denying or dismissing the harm caused by some of our brothers”, the Pope says, “it would be unfair not to express our gratitude to all those priests who faithfully and generously spend their lives in the service of others”.
“Countless priests make of their lives a work of mercy in areas or situations that are often hostile, isolated or ignored, even at the risk of their lives”, recalls the Pope, expressing his gratitude for the “courageous and steadfast example ” of these priests “in these times of turbulence, shame and pain”.
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The big picture
“I am convinced that, to the extent that we remain faithful to God’s will, these present times of ecclesial purification will make us more joyful and humble, and prove, in the not distant future, very fruitful”, the Pope encourages the priests of the world, offering them in the remainder of his letter theological reflections on gratitude and of encouragement and praise.
“The pain of so many victims, the pain of the people of God and our own personal pain, cannot be for naught”, Francis insists, encouraging priests “to be renewed in our mission of drawing near to those who suffer, of drawing near without embarrassment to human misery, and indeed to make all these experiences our own, as eucharist”.
“Our age, marked by old and new wounds, requires us to be builders of relationships and communion, open, trusting and awaiting in hope the newness that the kingdom of God wishes to bring about even today”, writes Francis.
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Why it matters
Commenting on the Pope’s letter, Vatican editorial director Andrea Tornielli admits “there was a need” for the Pope to offer priests “a word of encouragement, esteem [and] closeness” at a time when the world looks on them with suspicion.
“So that the pain caused to the ecclesial body by the infidelities of a few – as happened with the tremendous plague of abuse – would not risk forgetting the fidelity of many, experienced despite the many labours and human limitations”, writes Tornielli.
“The Pope, who certainly did not back down in the face of the duty to denounce and reprimand when necessary, responds by thanking the silent army of priests who betrayed neither faith nor trust”, continues the Italian journalist in an editorial published on the Vatican News website.
“There are priests who are looked upon with indignation, with suspicion, through no fault of their own, but who remain bleeding wounds for the entire ecclesial body”, warns Tornielli, explaining that with today’s letter the Pope has shown them his “closeness, encouragement, support and comfort”.