As a National Review Board member, I was delighted with both the tone and content of Pope Benedict’s remarks on the sexual abuse crisis.
First of all, there was the expression of shame, first made on the flight to America and repeated several times. We are deeply ashamed, he said, of this gravely immoral behavior by priests who minister in our name and of our breach of trust with those we should have protected.
What should we do to respond? He told the bishops their first priority should be showing compassion and care to victims. And then he showed how it should be done – by listening to survivors in person. No bishop can ignore his example of meeting personally with victims. But the Church is not just bishops. All of us bear the shame and all of us should attend to healing by listening to survivors’ stories. That is the model pioneered so powerfully by Voice of the Faithful in Boston in 2002. Pope Benedict called on all of us to do that in his homily at Nationals Stadium.
Addressing the bishops, Benedict noted that the crisis had sometimes been very badly handled. To prevent more abuse, he specifically commended safe environment programs – a strong papal answer to those in the American Church who oppose that part of the Charter.
The Holy Father also asked us to look for deeper cultural causes of the crisis. Why did this outbreak of crime against children occur in our Church in our time? To answer that question, we must complete the Causes and Context Study promised in the Charter and now under way, but not yet fully funded. For a fraction of what the papal trip cost the American Church, we can completely fund that study.
Benedict emphasized the crisis calls for a “determined, collective response.” Let that be an answer to any bishop who insists on his right to “govern” his diocese while ignoring the Charter.
Most importantly, by returning to the crisis repeatedly, Pope Benedict reminded us that the pain of victims cannot be cured by wishful thinking. Each of us must reach out in pastoral concern to make healing happen. We are called to that task by our common baptism.
Judge Michael R. Merz
Chairman, National Review Board