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Premature Forgiveness

Dear Pope Francis: I want to commend you for owning the painful fact of sexual abuse of children by priests as part of your Good Friday comments. Lent is surely the season for such a public acknowledgement. You named the reality of the abuse; you asserted the necessity of stringent sanctions; you acknowledged the profound vulnerability of children. All of this suggests that you are serious about acting to rectify the harm that has been done, to bring justice where there has been injustice, and to bring healing where brokenness remains.

On Good Friday, the day that Christians recall the crucifixion of Jesus, Pope Francis named the sin of child sexual abuse and asked for forgiveness.

“I feel compelled to personally take on all the evil that some priests — quite a few in number, though not compared to the total number — and to ask for forgiveness for the damage they have done by sexually abusing children...The church is aware of this damage,” he said. “It is personal and moral damage, but carried out by men of the church. And we do not want to take one step backward in dealing with this problem and the sanctions that must be imposed. On the contrary, I believe that we have to be very firm. Because you cannot take chances with children!”

Dear Pope Francis:

I want to commend you for owning the painful fact of sexual abuse of children by priests as part of your Good Friday comments. Lent is surely the season for such a public acknowledgement.  You named the reality of the abuse; you asserted the necessity of stringent sanctions; you acknowledged the profound vulnerability of children. All of this suggests that you are serious about acting to rectify the harm that has been done, to bring justice where there has been injustice, and to bring healing where brokenness remains.

You also asked for forgiveness. With all due respect, any expectation of forgiveness from God or from those who have been grievously harmed is premature. We await acts of repentance. Just as Jesus counsels us in Luke’s gospel, “...if your brother sins, rebuke him, and IF he repents, forgive him.” (17:3-4)

We await the rebuking of individual priests who have abused and of bishops who have stonewalled investigations and shielded abusive priests from legal action. We await the acts of a repentant church. We live in hope that you will lead the church in these acts of repentance and justice.

After announcing your Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors in December, 2013, I am glad to see that you have appointed its members. There are women and laypeople, there is one survivor of abuse by a priest. These are positive signs. Hopefully the members will bring a critical and urgent voice to help guide your actions.

The commission’s assignment is thoughtful and wide ranging:

“Certain that the Church has a critical role to play in this field, and looking to the future without forgetting the past, the Commission will take a multi-pronged approach to promoting youth protection, including: education regarding the exploitation of children; discipline of offenders; civil and canonical duties and responsibilities; and the development of best practices as they have emerged in society at large.”

Your rhetoric is strong and I believe it is heartfelt. But Catholics have been waiting a long time for real action from the Vatican to address the devastation brought by the sexual abuse of children by priests.

We continue to pray that your leadership will manifest in real change. But for now, we wait. And you must wait for forgiveness.

Your sister in Christ,

Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune
www.faithtrustinstitute.org
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forgiveness

Posted by Judith Braun at Apr 24, 2014 05:30 PM
I am a survivor of child sexual abuse NOT by a priest. The road of forgiveness is long. I am happy to see Pope Francis words. His words and the work of the commission is clearly in the right direction. It will be years of "forgiveness" work to unbind the wounds of these horrific events.

Premature forgiveness

Posted by Jaime Romo at Apr 29, 2014 10:23 PM
Pope Francis has been speaking to various forms of abuse of power, such as economic/ wealth inequity. I agree that forgiveness will be real when the acts of repentance, some of which you have named, are seen. It remains to be seen when local church leaders (ordained and lay) denounce abuse and enforce restrictions and other consequences on those who have perpetrated and enabled the criminal behavior of sexual abuse upon children and vulnerable adults.

Premature Forgiveness

Posted by Danny Woodall at Apr 29, 2014 10:24 PM
   My wife was abused by her dad. Nine years ago this month she remembered the abuse. Her father admitted to abusing her. Her family was ready to sweep it under the rug. Soon her dad was playing the victim. Finally her family saw the need for repentance from the dad. He did repent to my wife, and he changed. It took almost six years before this happened, but the last three years my wife and her dad were able to start building a relationship. He passed away last year. It would have never happened if my wife had pretended all was well. You're off to a great start Pope Francis, but there is work still to do. If you follow through, you will be amazed at the results. My wife and I were.

Pre-mature Forgiveness

Posted by Susan at Apr 29, 2014 10:25 PM
Marie,

I am so very grateful that YOU are not our Triune God, because our triune God does not place "pre-requisites" on God's forgiveness... God loves us all (yes, even the Pope!) unconditionally and as such, God's son died and forgave you, me, the Pope, et al without conditions. I pray for you and your judgmental attitude toward the Pope.
 

Pre-mature forgiveness

Posted by Fred Keene at May 30, 2014 08:38 PM
Susan:
I am afraid that you are mistaken. God does place conditions on forgiveness. There are no conditions on love. We need to keep this straight. Marie quoted Luke. In Matthew -- in the Sermon on the Mount -- Jesus tells us that "when you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. be reconciled to your brother and sister, and then come and offer your gift." If a priest tells a predator that he is forgiven, the priest is also telling the survivor that *God* has forgiven the crime against *her*, and her suffering is not important. Forgiveness requires the abuser be reconciled with the survivor.