“In our turbulent world, the barque of the Church has experienced, and continues to experience, moments of difficulty, and has been buffeted by strong winds and tempests”: it’s the Pope’s appraisal of the year that is nearing its end, conveyed in the traditional message of Christmas greetings to the Roman Curia. “The Bride of Christ advances on her pilgrim way amid joys and afflictions, amid successes and difficulties from within and from without” – the latter being “those most hurtful and destructive” – Francis pointed out, delving into two “afflictions” in particular. These are: abuses and infidelity, which for the Pope are “real sins of peculation.”
Afflictions, the new martyrs and the “new Nero.”
“All those immigrants, – forced to leave their own homelands and to risk their lives – lose their lives, or survive only to find doors barred and their brothers and sisters in our human family more concerned with political advantage and power! All that fear and prejudice! All those people, and especially those children who die each day for lack of water, food and medicine! All that poverty and destitution! All that violence directed against the vulnerable and against women! All those theatres of war both declared and undeclared. All that innocent blood spilled daily! All that inhumanity and brutality around us! All those persons who even today are systematically tortured in police custody, in prisons and in refugee camps in various parts of the world!” It’s the initial list of the “many afflictions” the Church is facing today.
Today along with “new martyrs” we see a “new Nero” oppressing the faith community: “New extremist groups are multiplying”, while “new and old circles and conventicles live feeding on hatred and hostility towards Christ, the Church and believers.”
“Zero tolerance” of abuses.
“The heroic example of the martyrs and of countless good Samaritans cannot, however, make us overlook the counter-witness and the scandal given by some sons and ministers of the Church.” In his address the Pope mentions ““sexual abuse, abuse of power and abuse of conscience”: three distinct forms of abuse committed even by King David. Today too, there are “the Lord’s anointed”, consecrated men, “who abuse the vulnerable, taking advantage of their position and their power of persuasion.” The Pope’s cry: “They perform abominable acts yet continue to exercise their ministry as if nothing had happened. They have no fear of God or of His judgement. They are just afraid of being found out and unmasked. Ministers who tear the ecclesial body, creating scandals. Often their immense kindness, impeccable industriousness, and angelic faces, shamelessly hide an atrocious wolf ready to devour the innocent souls.” “Before these abominations the Church will spare no effort to do all that is necessary to bring to justice whosoever has committed such crimes”, the Pope said emphatically, encapsulating the “zero-tolerance” policy that has characterised his pontificate since its inception.
“The Church will never seek to hush up or not take seriously any case. It is undeniable that some in the past, out of irresponsibility, disbelief, lack of training, inexperience, or spiritual and human short-sightedness, treated many cases without the seriousness and promptness that was due. That must never happen again. This is the choice and the decision of the whole Church.”
The occasion to reiterate this “firm resolve” will be offered in the meeting scheduled to take place in the Vatican next February 21-24. Furthermore “the Church will not be limited to healing her own wounds, but will seek to confront this evil that causes the slow death of so many persons, at the moral, psychological and human levels.”
To abusers: “convert.”
“Even if there were only a single case of abuse (which is in itself horrific), the Church asks not to remain silent and bring it objectively to light, since the greater scandal in this matter is to cloak the truth.” Thus Francis “thanked” media professionals who “sought to unmask these predators and make the victims’ voices be heard.”
“Please, let us help Holy Mother Church in her difficult task of recognizing real from false cases, accusations from slander, grievances from insinuations, gossip from defamation”
“This is no easy task, since the guilty parties are skilful enough to cover their tracks, to the extent that wives, mothers and sisters are unable to detect them in those closest to them: husbands, godfathers, grandfathers, uncles, brothers, neighbours, teachers… The victims too, carefully selected by their predators, often prefer silence and live in fear of shame and the terror of rejection.” The second appeal is addressed “to those who abuse minors”: “convert and hand yourself over to human justice, and prepare for divine justice”, the Pope declared.
Stabbing the brothers and sowing weed.
The second “affliction” denounced by the Pope in his message is that of “those who hide behind good intentions in order to stab their brothers and sisters in the back and to sow weeds, division, and bewilderment”; people who always find excuses, including intellectual and spiritual excuses, to progress unperturbed on the path to perdition.” “This is nothing new in the history of the Church”, Francis said quoting Saint Augustine. “In reality behind these sowers of weeds, we always find the thirty pieces of silver”, the Pope said, combined with “the duty to combat all spiritual corruption”, where everything seems acceptable: “deception, slander, egotism and other subtle forms of self-centeredness, for ‘even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.”
Reform, Synod and “thanks” to parish priests.
Among the “many” joys of this past year, Francis mentioned the “successful outcome of the Synod devoted to young people” and “the progress made in the reform of the Curia.” He remembered the figures of the new Blessed and saints, “precious stones” of the Church, as the nineteen martyrs of Algeria; along with the holiness of “the saints next-door”, the great number of men and women religious, bishops and priests, who live their vocation on a daily basis in fidelity, silence, holiness and self-denial”; “the many parish priests who daily offer good example to the people of God, priests close to families, who know everyone’s name and live lives of simplicity, faith, zeal, holiness and charity.” “The strength of any institution does not depend on its being composed of men and women who are perfect – concludes the Pope – but on its willingness to be constantly purified.” Each year Christmas brings us the certainty that “God’s light will continue to shine, despite our human misery” and that “the Church will emerge from these tribulations all the more beautiful, purified, and radiant.” He assured: “All the sins and failings and evil committed by some children of the Church will never be able to mar the beauty of her face. Christmas gives us the certainty that the grave evils perpetrated by some will never be able to cloud all the good that the Church freely accomplishes in the world.”