Pope Francis did not mince words in a lengthy letter to U.S. bishops ahead of the spiritual retreat he told them to take to prepare for a global meeting on clerical sex abuse in Rome in February. The American Catholic church is by no means the only church with systematic clerical sex abuse, but it by far one of the most problematic. A report last summer by a Pennsylvania grand jury outlined decades of abuse by hundreds of priests against thousands of children. A steady drip feed of clerical abuse allegations has followed. Nearly every state in America is currently conducting some kind of investigation into predatory priests.
In his letter to the U.S. bishops, who are currently meeting near Chicago for a week of prayer, the pontiff warns that it up to these men to clean up the mess they are all at least partly responsible for. “The Church’s credibility has been seriously undercut and diminished by these sins and crimes, but even more by the efforts made to deny or conceal them,” he writes, according to a copy distributed to accredited journalists to the Holy See. “As we know, the mentality that would cover things up, far from helping to resolve conflicts, enabled them to fester and cause even greater harm to the network of relationships that today we are called to heal and restore.”
He says the church has “deeply affected the faithful” and that the “crimes,” which until this letter he has more often referred to as “sins,” have caused “perplexity, upset and confusion.” He admits that many people have left their faith in response and calls upon the American church to pray for “conversion” to a new way of thinking that is more transparent. “Combatting the culture of abuse, the loss of credibility, the resulting bewilderment and confusion, and the discrediting of our mission urgently demands of us a renewed and decisive approach to resolving conflicts.” The pontiff does not offer concrete suggestions beyond praying for help to achieve these lofty goals.