‘Spiritual combat’ needed against abuse

To fight clerical sexual abuse, the Catholic Church must have clear laws and procedures, but it also must engage in “spiritual combat”, because it is obvious the devil is at work, Pope Francis said.

After the Vatican summit on abuse in February, the pope said, he read a newspaper article that said he had “washed his hands and blamed the devil” for the abuse crisis.

Speaking to reporters March 31 on his way back to Rome from Morocco, the pope said stopping abuse requires a multi-pronged approach, including prayer and penance.

Pope Francis said that is why he asked the US bishops not to vote in November on a new code of conduct for bishops and new procedures for handling allegations raised against bishops. Instead, he asked the bishops to have a retreat and wait until after the February summit to decide how to move forward.

Some things, like the abuse crisis and child pornography, he said, “cannot be understood without the mystery of evil”.

“We in the church will do everything to end this scourge,” the pope said.

In his address at the end of the summit, he said, he offered concrete measures to be followed, but he also recognised that there is a danger the Church would focus exclusively on laws and norms and would forget the spiritual weapons of prayer and penance “to defeat the spirit of evil. That is not washing your hands.”

Pope Francis said his 2018 letter to the bishops of Chile regarding the abuse crisis there and the letter he wrote to the US bishops at the beginning of their retreat in January both looked at the “human, scientific” and legal aspects of the crisis as well as the spiritual aspect.

The US bishops’ proposals for a code of conduct and a third-party reporting system, he said, “were too much like that of an organisation, methodological, and — without their meaning to — neglected the second dimension, the spiritual”.

The laity and everyone else must be involved, he said, but “the Church is not a congregationalist church. It is the Catholic Church where the bishop must take control of this as the pastor. The pope must take control of this. And how should he do this? With disciplinary measures, with prayer, with penance, with self-examination.”

The Catholic Weekly April 1.

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