Francis raises moral forefinger

Francis raises moral forefinger

Against the backdrop of the abuse scandal, Pope Francis addressed the U.S. bishops in a letter, who have withdrawn for a week of prayer. In it, he urged U.S. church leadership to be united despite internal tensions.

The Catholic Church is experiencing a serious crisis of credibility due to abuse and even more so due to cover-ups, the pope said in the letter published Thursday.

Francis wrote that he had originally wanted to attend the meeting but could not "for logistical reasons". U.S. bishops hold spiritual retreat at Chicago archdiocesan seminary since Wednesday to reflect on causes and consequences of clergy sexual abuse. The retreat is led by the papal house preacher Raniero Cantalamessa.

Against a "culture of abuse"

The pope encouraged bishops to take steps against a "culture of abuse" and the church's credibility crisis. The "greatest temptations" lie in a lack of unity, in division and dispersion, he said. According to reports on social networks, around 230 of the total of 271 active and 185 emeritus bishops are taking part in the retreat.

"The credibility of the Church has been seriously undermined by these sins and crimes, but even more by efforts to deny or cover them up," Francis wrote. While opposing blanket discrediting, he stressed that the violations caused by abuse have also attacked the community of bishops and created divisions that go beyond "healthy and necessary disagreements and tensions".

"The faithful people of God and the mission of the Church continue to suffer gravely as a consequence of the abuse of power and conscience and sexual abuse, as well as the poor handling of it," the pope said. Equally damaging, he said, is "an episcopate that lacks unity and is more concerned with pointing fingers at others than seeking ways of reconciliation".

Lost credibility cannot be regained through "strict decrees or simply the creation of new committees," he said. Such measures alone threatened to reduce everything to an administrative problem. Francis also opposed ideals that are too high and the absolutization of a particular group, era or culture within the church. Catholicity "cannot simply be reduced to a matter of doctrine or law"; the church is a community of sinners and is in constant need of conversion.

Warning against self-defense

From the bishops, the pope demanded a new approach to leadership, as well as inner conversion and a new approach to power, money, authority and relationships. He warned against tendencies toward self-referentiality, self-preservation and self-defense in response to the scandal; doing so would "doom the bishops' action to failure from the start".

In view of the uncertainty among Catholics, the first thing to do is to strengthen a "common spirit of discernment". One should not seek the "relative calm" of a compromise or a vote in which there are winners and losers.

Francis appealed to U.S. bishops to "break the vicious circle of mutual accusations, undermining and discrediting". He said they must stop "projecting their own confusion and discontent onto others". (CBA)

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