Women angry over pope’s sex abuse letter;

Women say atoning for clerical misdeeds is no substitute for punishment and reform.


Pope Francis at prayer

New Delhi:
Pope Francis’ call for fasting and prayer to atone for the sexual misdeeds of clergy has evoked angry responses from leading Catholic women in India who are demanding action to stem such crimes.

The Aug. 20 papal letter asked for forgiveness for clerical abuse a week after a U.S. court investigation reported that over 300 “predator priests” in the state of Pennsylvania had abused more than 1,000 children over several decades.

Pope Francis stated that fasting could drive a desire for justice through a commitment to truth and charity.

“Making the laity fast and pray is not the solution,” female theologian Kochurani Abraham told ucanews.com. “Clerical sexual infidelity should be punished and not hidden under the carpet.”

She said the church needs to make a distinction between sin and crime. “Sin is something that you can repent and be absolved of,” Abraham said. “But crime has to be punished.” The sooner the church realized this, the better, she added.

Sister Nirmalini, provincial of the Sisters of the Apostolic Carmel, told ucanews.com that several allegations of sexual abuse by priests had emerged in India during recent months. However, church officials had been reticent to deal with such matters, one of which has attracted international attention.

“The silence of the church is deafening and the victim is made to feel guilty for raising her voice,” Sister Nirmalini said. “Will the bishops stand up for justice for victims within the church?”

Police have been investigating Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar after a Catholic nun, who is the former superior of a diocesan congregation under the bishop, accused him of raping her four years ago and then sexually abusing her 13 more times during the following two years.

A group of theologians and activists wrote to the Vatican and Indian church leaders asking that the bishop be required to step down while the probe is under way.

“But we saw no action,” Kochurani said. “The letter was not even acknowledged.”

Astrid Lobo Gajiwala, an activist and a member of the Indian Bishops’ Council for Women, expressed surprise that even two months after the police investigation of Bishop Mulakkal started, the church is still not acting.

“Isn’t it time that the church started an investigation to find out whether he should continue as bishop?” she asked.

Several church officials maintain that church laws do not allow any bishops’ body or any bishop to initiate such investigations.

“That is why we need changes in the system,” Sister Nirmalini said. “The church has to be seen to be proactive on these crimes against women and children. Let a system be put in place at national level to deal with such cases.”

She noted that sexual abuse crimes only came to light because of investigations by civil authorities rather than the actions of church officials.

Virginia Saldhana, a lay theologian, said the church globally wants concrete action from Pope Francis, such as adopting a system for reporting allegations of clerical sexual abuse, and not just “pious words”.

“We live in a patriarchal society where men are in control and are considered superior to women,” Gajiwala said. “Priests are a product of our society and carry their male power with them.”

She said the fact that many Catholics treat priests “like God” made for very unequal power relationships and a culture of clericalism. “It brings untold privileges and breeds arrogance and authoritarian power in the clergy,” she said.

There is a need to review canon law, which currently seems to tie the hands of local bishops to act without approval from Rome, as well as a revision of seminary formation and a framework to report clerical abuses to civil authorities, she said.

Gajiwala also wants church affairs to be conducted in a less hierarchical fashion.

“We are the church, not just the clergy and bishops, and the church is the concern of all, not just of the ordained,” she said. “We all have a stake in its effective functioning, so why are we not there in the leadership?”

Source: UCAN


Pope Francis: Letter to the People of God (full text)

Pope Francis has responded to new reports of clerical sexual abuse and the ecclesial cover-up of abuse. In an impassioned letter addressed to the whole People of God, he calls on the Church to be close to victims in solidarity, and to join in acts of prayer and fasting in penance for such “atrocities”.

Letter of His Holiness Pope Francis
To the People of God

“If one member suffers, all suffer together with it” (1 Cor12:26).  These words of Saint Paul forcefully echo in my heart as I acknowledge once more the suffering endured by many minors due to sexual abuse, the abuse of power and the abuse of conscience perpetrated by a significant number of clerics and consecrated persons.  Crimes that inflict deep wounds of pain and powerlessness, primarily among the victims, but also in their family members and in the larger community of believers and nonbelievers alike.  Looking back to the past, no effort to beg pardon and to seek to repair the harm done will ever be sufficient.  Looking ahead to the future, 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 pain of the victims and their families is also our pain, and so it is urgent that we once more reaffirm our commitment to ensure the protection of minors and of vulnerable adults.

1.      If one member suffers…

In recent days, a report was made public which detailed the experiences of at least a thousand survivors, victims of sexual abuse, the abuse of power and of conscience at the hands of priests over a period of approximately seventy years. Even though it can be said that most of these cases belong to the past, nonetheless as time goes on we have come to know the pain of many of the victims.  We have realized that these wounds never disappear and that they require us forcefully to condemn these atrocities and join forces in uprooting this culture of death; these wounds never go away. The heart-wrenching pain of these victims, which cries out to heaven, was long ignored, kept quiet or silenced.  But their outcry was more powerful than all the measures meant to silence it, or sought even to resolve it by decisions that increased its gravity by falling into complicity.  The Lord heard that cry and once again showed us on which side he stands.  Mary’s song is not mistaken and continues quietly to echo throughout history.  For the Lord remembers the promise he made to our fathers: “he has scattered the proud in their conceit; he has cast down the mighty from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty” (Lk 1:51-53).  We feel shame when we realize that our style of life has denied, and continues to deny, the words we recite.

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, realizing the magnitude and the gravity of the damage done to so many lives.  We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them.  I make my own the words of the then Cardinal Ratzinger when, during the Way of the Cross composed for Good Friday 2005, he identified with the cry of pain of so many victims and exclaimed: “How much filth there is in the Church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to [Christ]!  How much pride, how much self-complacency!  Christ’s betrayal by his disciples, their unworthy reception of his body and blood, is certainly the greatest suffering endured by the Redeemer; it pierces his heart.  We can only call to him from the depths of our hearts: Kyrie eleison – Lord, save us! (cf. Mt 8:25)” (Ninth Station).

2.   … all suffer together with it

The extent and the gravity of all that has happened requires coming to grips with this reality in a comprehensive and communal way.  While it is important and necessary on every journey of conversion to acknowledge the truth of what has happened, in itself this is not enough.  Today we are challenged as the People of God to take on the pain of our brothers and sisters wounded in their flesh and in their spirit.  If, in the past, the response was one of omission, today we want solidarity, in the deepest and most challenging sense, to become our way of forging present and future history.  And this in an environment where conflicts, tensions and above all the victims of every type of abuse can encounter an outstretched hand to protect them and rescue them from their pain (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 228).  Such solidarity demands that we in turn condemn whatever endangers the integrity of any person.  A solidarity that summons us to fight all forms of corruption, especially spiritual corruption.  The latter is “a comfortable and self-satisfied form of blindness.  Everything then appears acceptable: deception, slander, egotism and other subtle forms of self-centeredness, for ‘even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light’ (2 Cor 11:14)” (Gaudete et Exsultate, 165).  Saint Paul’s exhortation to suffer with those who suffer is the best antidote against all our attempts to repeat the words of Cain: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen4:9).

I am conscious of the effort and work being carried out in various parts of the world to come up with the necessary means to ensure the safety and protection of the integrity of children and of vulnerable adults, as well as implementing zero tolerance and ways of making all those who perpetrate or cover up these crimes accountable.  We have delayed in applying these actions and sanctions that are so necessary, yet I am confident that they will help to guarantee a greater culture of care in the present and future.

Together with those efforts, every one of the baptized should feel involved in the ecclesial and social change that we so greatly need.  This change calls for a personal and communal conversion that makes us see things as the Lord does.  For as Saint John Paul II liked to say: “If we have truly started out anew from the contemplation of Christ, we must learn to see him especially in the faces of those with whom he wished to be identified” (Novo Millennio Ineunte, 49).  To see things as the Lord does, to be where the Lord wants us to be, to experience a conversion of heart in his presence.  To do so, prayer and penance will help.  I invite the entire holy faithful People of God to a penitential exercise of prayer and fasting, following the Lord’s command.[1] This can awaken our conscience and arouse our solidarity and commitment to a culture of care that says “never again” to every form of abuse.

It is impossible to think of a conversion of our activity as a Church that does not include the active participation of all the members of God’s People.  Indeed, whenever we have tried to replace, or silence, or ignore, or reduce the People of God to small elites, we end up creating communities, projects, theological approaches, spiritualities and structures without roots, without memory, without faces, without bodies and ultimately, without lives.[2]  This is clearly seen in a peculiar way of understanding the Church’s authority, one common in many communities where sexual abuse and the abuse of power and conscience have occurred.  Such is the case with clericalism, an approach that “not only nullifies the character of Christians, but also tends to diminish and undervalue the baptismal grace that the Holy Spirit has placed in the heart of our people”.[3]   Clericalism, whether fostered by priests themselves or by lay persons, leads to an excision in the ecclesial body that supports and helps to perpetuate many of the evils that we are condemning today.  To say “no” to abuse is to say an emphatic “no” to all forms of clericalism.

It is always helpful to remember that “in salvation history, the Lord saved one people.  We are never completely ourselves unless we belong to a people.  That is why no one is saved alone, as an isolated individual.  Rather, God draws us to himself, taking into account the complex fabric of interpersonal relationships present in the human community.  God wanted to enter into the life and history of a people” (Gaudete et Exsultate, 6).  Consequently, the only way that we have to respond to this evil that has darkened so many lives is to experience it as a task regarding all of us as the People of God.  This awareness of being part of a people and a shared history will enable us to acknowledge our past sins and mistakes with a penitential openness that can allow us to be renewed from within.  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 in generating the necessary dynamics for sound and realistic change.  The penitential dimension of fasting and prayer will help us as God’s People to come before the Lord and our wounded brothers and sisters as sinners imploring forgiveness and the grace of shame and conversion.  In this way, we will come up with actions that can generate resources attuned to the Gospel.  For “whenever we make the effort to return to the source and to recover the original freshness of the Gospel, new avenues arise, new paths of creativity open up, with different forms of expression, more eloquent signs and words with new meaning for today’s world” (Evangelii Gaudium, 11).

It is essential that we, as a Church, be able to acknowledge and condemn, with sorrow and shame, the atrocities perpetrated by consecrated persons, clerics, and all those entrusted with the mission of watching over and caring for those most vulnerable.  Let us beg forgiveness for our own sins and the sins of others.   An awareness of sin helps us to acknowledge the errors, the crimes and the wounds caused in the past and allows us, in the present, to be more open and committed along a journey of renewed conversion.

Likewise, penance and prayer will help us to open our eyes and our hearts to other people’s sufferings and to overcome the thirst for power and possessions that are so often the root of those evils.  May fasting and prayer open our ears to the hushed pain felt by children, young people and the disabled.  A fasting that can make us hunger and thirst for justice and impel us to walk in the truth, supporting all the judicial measures that may be necessary.  A fasting that shakes us up and leads us to be committed in truth and charity with all men and women of good will, and with society in general, to combatting all forms of the abuse of power, sexual abuse and the abuse of conscience.

In this way, we can show clearly our calling to be “a sign and instrument of communion with God and of the unity of the entire human race” (Lumen Gentium, 1).

“If one member suffers, all suffer together with it”, said Saint Paul.  By an attitude of prayer and penance, we will become attuned as individuals and as a community to this exhortation, so that we may grow in the gift of compassion, in justice, prevention and reparation.  Mary chose to stand at the foot of her Son’s cross.  She did so unhesitatingly, standing firmly by Jesus’ side.  In this way, she reveals the way she lived her entire life.  When we experience the desolation caused by these ecclesial wounds, we will do well, with Mary, “to insist more upon prayer”, seeking to grow all the more in love and fidelity to the Church (SAINT IGNATIUS OF LOYOLA, Spiritual Exercises, 319).  She, the first of the disciples, teaches all of us as disciples how we are to halt before the sufferings of the innocent, without excuses or cowardice.  To look to Mary is to discover the model of a true follower of Christ.

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.


Source: Vatican News

1 Comment

  1. Isaac Gomes said,

    August 26, 2018 at 8:53 pm

    Theologian Kochurani Abraham has hit the nail on the head with her retort to Pope Francis’ call for call for fasting and prayer to atone for the sexual misdeeds of clergy “Making the laity fast and pray is not the solution; Clerical sexual infidelity should be punished and not hidden under the carpet.”

    Sister Nirmalini’s lament “The silence of the church is deafening and the victim is made to feel guilty for raising her voice,” “Will the bishops stand up for justice for victims within the church?” is like trying to make a breach on the Wall of China.

    If I am not mistaken, Sister Nirmalini is the self-defence expert “Operation Prahar” which made her quite famous in Delhi and the adjoining states. She should help all young nuns including novices learn self-defence to fend off the wolf-priests and keep them in their place. This knowledge of self-defence will stand them in good stead both in their convents and outside, as the alleged Bishop Franco Mulakkal case shows.

    Gajiwala’s is absolutely justified in her demand for church affairs to be conducted in a less hierarchical fashion. “We are the church, not just the clergy and bishops, and the church is the concern of all, not just of the ordained,” she said. “We all have a stake in its effective functioning, so why are we not there in the leadership?”

    Regarding Kochurani Abraham’s surprise at their letter to the Vatican and Indian church leaders asking that the bishop be required to step down while the probe is under way, not being acted upon and not even being acknowledged, it is nothing new. We too had written letters and emails to the immediate past Nuncio and to the CBCI regarding Church atrocities in the Archdiocese of Calcutta, but there was no acknowledgement, forget the response.

    However, the letter to the Nuncio mentioned by Kochurani was mentioned in Church Citizens’ Voice on 13th July 2018 captioned “Rape accused bishop’s suspension demanded.” Given below are excerpts from my comment in the report:


    Regarding the letter of 178-member group to Cardinal Gracias, hardly any diocese/ archdiocese adheres to points 1-3 of the letter. It has been more than fifty years since the Vatican II documents were made public. How many parishes talk of these to their parishioners? The same is the fate of the Policy to prevent and deal with the Sexual Harassment of Women in the Workplace. These documents are not disseminated to all the faithful and stake holders in Church and Church institutions. If this policy (Sexual Harassment of Women in the Workplace) is made public, then some members of the clergy will be caught with their pants down.

    Even in the Archbihop’s House in Calcutta, this Policy including the *Vishakha norms/ Guidelines (The Sexual Harassment at workplace Bill passed by the Lok Sabha on 2 September 2012 – superseded by Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace – Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal – Act 2013) are reportedly, not in place. The secretary is very vulnerable as she works among priests and male staff, without any female protection and Vishakha Guidelines / Safey Net in place.
    The Laity which constitutes ninety-nine per cent of the Church (as per Bishop Stephen Lepcha, Bishop of Darjeeling who is also Chairman of Regional Laity Commission, West Bengal-Sikkim) is to blame for still preferring to be SLEEPING GIANTS and allowing the same set of lame-duck Laity Leaders who wear different hats for different occasions, to represent them.


    As a fall out of the above report, the Archbishop’s House, instead of taking measures to implement Vishakha Guildelines, reportedly eased out the only female Secretary who toiled hard to earn her daily bread. This validates Gajiawala’s observation “We live in a patriarchal society where men are in control and are considered superior to women,” Gajiwala said. “Priests are a product of our society and carry their male power with them.”


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