Pope describes clerical sex abuse as ‘diabolic sacrifice’ in book preface
Extract published as suggestion of 200 abuse cases within Italian Catholic Church emerges
Pope Francis: He encouraged 57-year-old former priest Daniel Pittet to tell his story of clerical sex abuse more widely after meeting him. Photograph: Andreas Solaro/AFP/Getty
Pope Francis has described clerical sex abuse as “diabolic sacrifice” in the preface of a new book. I Forgive You, Father, by former Swiss priest Daniel Pittet, who was himself the victim of clerical sex abuse as an eight-year-old altar boy, has been published as as suggestions emerge that the Vatican may soon be dealing with a raft of abuse cases.
La Repubblica, a daily Roman newspaper, carried the full preface in a front page article on Monday, in which it explained the background to Mr Pittet’s story. During an audience with the pope two years ago, Mr Pittet told Francis the story of his four-year-long abuse. The pope, claims Mr Pittet, not only listened to his story in tears but also encouraged the 57-year-old former priest to tell the story more widely.
“For anyone who has been the victim of a paedophile it is very difficult to recount what happened to them, to describe still existing traumas many years later. For that reason, Daniel Pittet’s testimony is necessary, precious and courageous”, Francis writes in the preface.
“I am glad that people can today read his witness and discover for themselves the extent to which evil can enter into the heart of a servant of the church.”
The pope also reflects on the damage caused by clerical sex abuse in the piece: “How does a priest in the service of Christ and his church manage to provoke so much evil? Having consecrated his life so that he might lead children to God, how does he end up devouring them in what I have called ‘a diabolic sacrifice’ which destroys both the victim and the life of the church? Some victims have even taken their own lives.”
Not for the first time, Pope Francis quotes Matthew 18:6, where the apostle says that for anyone who commit child sexual abuse, “it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”
Inevitably, the pope of mercy highlights the fact that Mr Pittet opted to forgive his abuser when he finally met up with him last year, more than 40 years after the abuse: “He opted to meet his abuser more than 40 years later, and to look him in the eye, the man who had so damaged his soul. And he reached out his hand to him. The wounded child is today a man on his feet, fragile but on his feet. I am much struck by his words: ‘Many people find it hard to understand why I do not hate this man. I have forgiven him and I have built my life around that pardon.’”
Mr Pittet told La Repubblica that when he finally met his abuser, he found a “sick old man” who did not seem to “feel remorse for all the harm he had done”.
The former priest also suggested that senior church figures, at least in France and Italy, continue to cover up for abusers: “For that reason, the pope’s words are important. There are paedophiles in the parishes and even in the church hierarchy, people who pretend nothing is happening and who move abuser priests from one church to another, as if that was going to resolve the problem. They keep their secrets and new children are abused.”
The papal preface comes at a time when the omertá – code of silence – which has long surrounded Italian clerical sex abuse seems to be finally cracking. In recent weeks, investigative journalist Emiliano Fittipaldi suggested that there were at least 200 cases of sex abuse about to blow up in the face of the Italian Catholic Church.
Just in the last fortnight, Archbishop of Naples Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe was accused of covering up abuse in his Naples archdiocese. Furthermore, it was revealed last week that Don Gianni Trotta, a priest laicised by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2012 for sex abuse crimes, may have abused as many as 10 boys from an under-11s soccer team following his laicisation. It appears that Don Gianni was not “signalled” to civic authorities following his removal from the priesthood.