Pope Writes Letter to U.S. Bishops

While the bishops are at a week-long prayer meeting concerning the abuse crisis, Pope Francis sent them an 8-page letter. The divergent headlines from the Washington Post (“Pope Francis acknowledges sexual abuse scandals have damaged the Catholic Church”) and NCR (“Pope Francis takes US bishops to task for cover-up, conflict, division”) reflect the vagueness and vacuity of the letter. The reports seem more like responses to an ink blot than to meaningful text. Needless to say, Pope Francis provided no pearls of wisdom from his special commission that has been studying the abuse problem for the last five years.

The lead paragraphs further reflect the oddity of the letter. The Washington Post:

“In a letter to U.S. bishops released Thursday by the Vatican, Pope Francis directly acknowledged the damage done to the Catholic Church by sexual abuse scandals and provided a lengthy explanation of his proposed response: one focused on discernment, unity and a ‘change in our mind-set.’”

Can you find anything meaningful in Pope Francis’ proposed solution to this long-standing crisis – a call for “discernment, unity, and a ‘change in mind-set’? What are the chances of finding a significant proposal with unanimous support?

The lead from NCR:

“In a strongly worded, eight-page letter to U.S. bishops, Pope Francis has rebuked the prelates not only for covering up sexual abuse but for unhealthy conflicts and divisions among themselves, which have "gravely" and "seriously" undercut the church's credibility.”

It’s hard to believe that the Washington Post and NCR are talking about the same letter. NCR’s summary is more to the point. Pope Francis still refuses to take responsibility for the problem and is trying to shift the blame to the bishops. And don’t blame me for the loss of Church credibility, either!

It took the Washington Post another paragraph to make a point: “The 3,600-word letter was largely prescriptive and spiritually oriented. It did not call for new measures to punish high-ranking clerics or hold them accountable — steps recommended by victim advocacy groups.” Pope Francis spewed a lot of “spiritual” pablum while avoiding any concrete measures.

Next month the Pope will hold a much-anticipated summit on the abuse crisis. Like this letter, the summit is unlikely to result in meaningful measures. In fact, the Vatican recently prohibited the U.S. bishops from voting on proposals that might have made some marginal improvement. That vote was actually consistent with Pope Francis’ call for discernment and unity. Five years of data strongly suggests that Pope Francis is incapable of providing responsible leadership in this area.


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