Recent events surrounding the grand jury report from Pennsylvania led our Holy Father to send a letter to us, the people of God, in which he acknowledges “crimes that inflict deep wounds of pain and powerlessness, primarily among the victims . . .” and that “no effort must be spared to create a culture able to prevent such situations from happening, but also to prevent the possibility of their being covered up and perpetuated.” The wounds of abuse never go away for the victims of these atrocities.
Pointedly, the Holy Father says, “With shame and repentance, we acknowledge as an ecclesial community that we were not where we should have been, that we did not act in a timely manner . . . we showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them.” He challenges us to “take on the pain of our brothers and sisters wounded in their flesh and in their spirit” in order to establish a solidarity that “demands that we in turn condemn whatever endangers the integrity of any person.” The Holy Father is not blaming us, the members of the Church, for the abuse that has occurred, but he is encouraging us to recognize that as members of the Church we have a responsibility to acknowledge the victims, their pain and suffering and to respond. No longer can we comfortably sit in our pews and expect someone else to pay attention to abuse issues.
Pope Francis is aware of the worldwide efforts that are being carried out to alleviate and prevent abuse, and he calls on “every one of the baptized” to become involved in the needed change in order to prevent abuses from ever happening again. He encourages us to engage in penitential prayer and fasting as suggested by our Lord in Matthew 17:21. But he warns us that “without the active participation of all the Church’s members, everything being done to uproot the culture of abuse in our communities will not be successful . . . ” Thus, we, as the laity of the church, must acknowledge that we have an obligation to see to it that any kind of abuse does not occur.
In concluding his letter to all of us, Pope Francis says, “May the Holy Spirit grant us the grace of conversion and the interior anointing needed to express before these crimes of abuse our compunction and our resolve courageously to combat them” (emphasis added). So what do we do to combat abuse in our Church?
The first step is to understand the forms of abuse that can occur, not only in the Church, but in our homes, work places and indeed anywhere. Second, if we recognize or suspect abuse, we must learn how to respond in a timely and effective manner. Finally, we must pray for the victims and their abusers and seek to help them in any way to reconcile with the Church so as to encourage their healing. In our diocese, the Office of Child and Youth Protection has provided a means by which all of us can be educated in these necessary steps in responding to abuse allegations through “Safe Environment” training.
While clergy, staff members and volunteers are required to go through “Safe Environment” training, all members of the laity are encouraged to attend these training sessions, which are offered by every parish in our diocese. By attending this training and understanding what to be aware of, we, the laity, become the first line of defense in combating abuse in any and all its forms.
J. Patrick Kelly
Member, Review Board,
Diocese of Colorado Springs