Following summit, Church will focus on 8 points in ‘all-out battle’ against abuse

Catholic News Agency

By Courtney Grogan/Catholic News Agency

At the closing of the Vatican summit on sexual abuse, Pope Francis outlined eight points that the Church will focus on in an “all-out battle” against the sexual abuse of minors to, he said, “turn this evil into an opportunity for purification.”

“We need to recognize with humility and courage that we stand face to face with the mystery of evil, which strikes most violently against the most vulnerable, for they are an image of Jesus,” Pope Francis said Feb. 24 following the Vatican summit’s closing Mass in the Sala Regia.

“For this reason, the Church has now become increasingly aware of the need not only to curb the gravest cases of abuse by disciplinary measures and civil and canonical processes, but also to decisively confront the phenomenon both inside and outside the Church,” he continued.

The pope’s closing address for the Vatican sex abuse summit Feb. 21 – 24 was filled with statistics on the overall phenomenon of all child sexual abuse worldwide, most of which occurs within the context of the family, Pope Francis pointed out. However, these statistics can only provide explanation of the phenomenon, but not the meaning behind the acts, the pope said.

The meaning behind child sex abuse comes from “the present-day manifestation of the spirit of evil,” he said, later adding that consecrated persons who commit such crimes become “tools of Satan.”

“Today we find ourselves before a manifestation of brazen, aggressive and destructive evil,” he said. “We need to take up the spiritual means that the Lord himself teaches us: humiliation, self-accusation, prayer and penance. This is the only way to overcome the spirit of evil. It is how Jesus himself overcame it.”

Building upon the World Health Organization’s “Seven Strategies for Ending Violence against Children,” the pope presented eight guidelines to aid the Church in “developing her legislation” on the issues.

The eight guidelines can be summarized as follows:

  1. A “change of mentality” to focus on protecting children rather than “protecting the institution.”
  2. A recognition of the “impeccable seriousness” of these “sins and crimes of consecrated persons.”
  3. A genuine purification beginning with “self-accusation.”
  4. Positive formation of candidates for the priesthood in the virtue of chastity.
  5. Strengthening and reviewing of guidelines by episcopal conferences, reaffirming the need for “rules.”
  6. The accompaniment of those who have been abused with an emphasis on listening.
  7. Ensure that seminarians and clergy are not enslaved to an addiction to pornography.
  8. Combat sexual tourism around the world.

“The Church’s aim will thus be to hear, watch over, protect and care for abused, exploited and forgotten children, wherever they are,” Pope Francis said.

“To achieve that goal, the Church must rise above the ideological disputes and journalistic practices that often exploit, for various interests, the very tragedy experienced by the little ones,” he continued.

The pope said that, “the brutality of this worldwide phenomenon becomes all the more grave and scandalous in the Church, for it is utterly incompatible with her moral authority and ethical credibility.”

Twice in his speech, the pope highlighted “the scourge of pornography” and its influence on violence against minors.

We need to “encourage countries and authorities to apply every measure needed to contain those websites that threaten human dignity,” Pope Francis said, adding that the Church should consider raising the age limit of the crime, specified by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010 of “the acquisition, possession or distribution by a cleric of pornographic images of minors” to above its current limit of 14 years old.

“I would like to stress the important need to turn this evil into an opportunity for purification,” Pope Francis said, thanking priests and faithful Catholics who have silently and faithfully lived out their vows of celibacy.

“The best results and the most effective resolution that we can offer to the victims, to the people of Holy Mother Church and to the entire world, are the commitment to personal and collective conversion, the humility of learning, listening, assisting and protecting the most vulnerable,” he said.

“In people’s justified anger, the Church sees the reflection of the wrath of God, betrayed and insulted by these deceitful consecrated persons. The echo of the silent cry of the little ones who, instead of finding in them fathers and spiritual guides, encountered tormentors, will shake hearts dulled by hypocrisy and by power. It is our duty to pay close heed to this silent, choked cry,” Pope Francis said.

The pope made “a heartfelt appeal for an all-out battle against the abuse of minors both sexually and in other areas, on the part of all authorities and individuals, for we are dealing with abominable crimes that must be erased from the face of the earth.”

Later in his Angelus address, Pope Francis reflected on the Gospel’s emphasis on mercy and loving one’s enemy. He stressed that “if our hearts are open to mercy … we proclaim before the world that it is possible to overcome evil with good.”

Featured photo by Franco Origlia | Getty Images

COMING UP: For Love of Country: A Catholic Patriotism

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Our country has been through a lot this last year, as we all know. As many people have reacted against the founding and history of the United States, I have found myself drawn towards greater patriotism. By this, I simply mean a deeper appreciation of what I’ve been given by my country and also a growing realization of the duty I have to work for the common good, here and now. The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of this duty under the fourth commandment that enjoins honor not only to parents but also to anyone in authority.   

It is the duty of citizens to contribute along with the civil authorities to the good of society in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity, and freedom. The love and service of one’s country follow from the duty of gratitude and belong to the order of charity. Submission to legitimate authorities and service of the common good require citizens to fulfill their roles in the life of the political community (2239). 

Catholics, and all people of good will, are called to a love and service of country in order to work for the common good.  

Eric Metaxas argues that the future of our country depends precisely upon the active role of Christians in his book, If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty (Penguin, 2017). He describes something called the Golden Triangle, an idea he borrowed from Os Guinness, but which ultimately comes from the Founding Fathers. “The Golden Triangle of Freedom is, when reduced to its most basic form, that freedom requires virtue; virtue requires faith; and faith requires freedom. The three go round and round, supporting one another ad infinitum. If any one of the three legs of the triangle is removed, the whole structure ceases to exist” (54). John Adams, for example, related very clearly, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other” (quoted on 61). Metaxas comments, looking to specific examples around the world, “if you take God and faith and morality out of the equation, everything inevitably falls apart. It cannot be otherwise” (48). It cannot be otherwise. That may sound extreme, but we have many examples from Communist and Fascist countries and now even from movements within our country that aggressive secularism parallels a collapse of real freedom.  

The Constitution established an ordered liberty that requires responsibility and a determined effort of preservation. Hence the title of the book, taken from Benjamin Franklin, a republic “if you can keep it.” We are called to actively preserve our country: entering into a deeper understanding of the “idea” of America that undergirds the Republic as well as showing a loving determination to overcome challenges and threats to its continuance. This is not to whitewash the past, as we all know the injustices of our history. Metaxas argues that we can be grateful for the good and unique blessings of our heritage while also working to overcome failures. “To truly love America, one must somehow see both sides simultaneously” (226). Furthermore, by loving our country we are willing her good, drawing our own selves into the work for her good and helping her to be true to herself. “So that in loving America we are embodying her original intentions — we are indeed being America at her best — and in doing so we are calling her to her best, to be focused on doing all she can to fulfill the great promise which God has called her in bringing her into existence and shepherding her through trials and tribulations all these and centuries — and now” (235).  

As Catholics, we have a lot to offer our country by drawing from our rich intellectual and spiritual heritage. Michael Krom, a philosopher at St. Vincent College, provides us with a great resource in his new book, Justice and Charity: An Introduction to Aquinas’s Moral, Economic, and Political Thought (Baker, 2020). In an age of confusion, Catholics can bring greater clarity in our national discourse on the nature of human life, virtue, and politics. “We live in a time of ideological conflicts, in which the citizens of the nations of the modern world seem incapable of agreeing upon even the most basic of moral, economic, or political principles. Civil discourse has been replaced with violent protest, and reasoned dialogue with character assassination” (2). As Catholics, we should be able to look above all of this, literally: “While the Church does not force us to reject political citizenship, she demands that we direct it to the heavenly, and we can do that by heeding her call to engage the world rather than conform to it. I wrote this book out of the conviction that those who want to heed the Church’s call to engage our culture need to look to the past” (ibid.).  

Dr. Krom shows us that St. Thomas Aquinas has much to teach us about living the good life, in pursuit of a genuine freedom and happiness, and that this should inform a Catholic approach to economics and politics. It is hard to work for virtue if you don’t know what virtue really is, and difficult to act justly toward others if you don’t understand the nature of duty. Aquinas can help us to judge the direction of our country, as “a government cannot be called ‘good’ unless it promotes just moral and economic relationships between its citizens” (121). This is precisely the purpose of government — to promote right order and peace. We can’t just dispense with politics because, “the fact that humans find their fulfillment in political community means that situating their own good with the good of the community as a whole is central to happiness” (125). We are not isolated individuals and can’t attain a good and complete life on our own.  

Our ultimate good, however, is God, not the political life. Everything — all of our choices, including economic and political ones — must be directed to our ultimate goal. There are not “two ends to human existence, the earthly and the heavenly … [T]here is only one end, the beatific vision” (162). In this way the Church informs our citizenship. Krom explains “how inadequate this human law is as a teacher in the virtues, for it is limited in scope to the prevention of those vices from which even the wicked can refrain, and thus leaves those who seek after perfect virtue to their own devices … [H]uman law is in need of a higher law to truly bring about a just community” (155). Unfortunately, we’re seeing that our society is no longer even trying to prevent serious vice. Catholics and all believers have an important role to play, because “the lack of religion in the citizenry leads it down the path of totalitarianism. It Is absolutely critical that a people maintain a strong commitment to a transcendent measure of the common good in order to protect the true flourishing of its members” (171). Krom’s important work on justice and charity can teach us how a Catholic can exercise a proper patriotism, a true love of country.