A good day’s work as Pope Francis expresses sorrow for the sins and crimes of clerical sex abuse

Fri, Jul 11, 2014, 01:01

Monday last may yet turn out to be a most significant day in the Roman Catholic Church where clerical child sexual abuse is concerned. That morning Pope Francis received an intense education on the consequences of such abuse and its cover-up for six adults violated as children. For the first time, he heard directly stories of innocence shattered, years of turmoil and distress, faith destroyed. He heard about lies and denial by wolves in shepherd’s clothing, and worse. He heard of how those same wolves were protected, even facilitated, by those in church authority who put protection of the institution, its assets and clergy before that of those children they so blithely sacrificed.

Pope Francis spent three hours and 20 minutes listening to such stories told by three men and three women from the UK and Germany as well as Marie Kane and Mark Vincent Healy from Ireland. Both were afforded all the time they wanted with him. Neither pulled their punches in telling about their experiences. From the language of his homily at the Mass in Santa Marta that morning, it is clear Pope Francis grasps the enormity of what has happened in his church. He asked “for the grace to weep, the grace for the Church to weep and make reparation for her sons and daughters who betrayed their mission, who abused innocent persons...Before God and his people I express my sorrow for the sins and grave crimes of clerical sexual abuse committed against you. And I humbly ask forgiveness.”

As significant was an address by Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin at a conference in Rome that evening. He said the church “must show unflinchingly a preferential option for those who have been victims of abuse within its fold.” Simply ensuring the safety of children was not enough. Recalling the words of Jesus about leaving the 99 to find one who is lost, he said the church must actively seek out the abused and help them, wherever they are, “as like it or not, that is precisely what Jesus asks us to do.” A good day’s work.