The clerical abuse crisis and the “crisis of credibility” it created for the U.S. bishops have led to serious divisions within the U.S. church and to a temptation to look for administrative solutions to problems that go much deeper, Pope Francis told the U.S. bishops.
Without a clear and decisive focus on spiritual conversion and Gospel-inspired ways of responding to victims and exercising ministry, “everything we do risks being tainted by self-referentiality, self preservation and defensiveness, and thus doomed from the start,” the Pope wrote.
In a letter distributed to the bishops at the beginning of their Jan. 2-8 retreat, Pope Francis said he was convinced their response to the “sins and crimes” of abuse and “the efforts made to deny or conceal them” must be found through “heartfelt, prayerful and collective listening to the word of God and to the pain of our people.”
“As we know,” he said, “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.”
The “abuses of power and conscience and sexual abuse, and the poor way that they were handled” continue to harm the church and its mission, he said, but so does “the pain of seeing an episcopate lacking in unity and concentrated more on pointing fingers than on seeking paths of reconciliation.”
Such a division, which goes well beyond a “healthy” diversity of opinions, is what caused him to recommend a retreat because, the Pope said, “this situation forces us to look to what is essential and to rid ourselves of all that stands in the way of a clear witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
The gathering be led by Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the papal household. Pope Francis said church leaders must “abandon a modus operandi of disparaging, discrediting, playing the victim or the scold in our relationships,” and instead listen to the “gentle breeze” of the Gospel message.