Friday, April 18, 2008

The Pope, Abuse and Healing

Pope Benedict simply does not follow other people’s expectations of him. Critics said he would only speak about clergy sexual abuse one time. He has spoken about it daily. They said he would not be overly involved, he has described the bishop’s management of the abuse as “mishandled”, hardly a neutral phrase. They said he would never meet with any of the victims, he did.

Pope Benedict has addressed the shame of the abuse. He has not minimized the after-effects of the abuse. Instead, he has called on the Church, priests, religious and lay members to support and care for the victims of the abuse for as long as they need it. This does not sound like minimizing to me.

For any type of healing to occur a problem must be named, addressed, and acknowledged. This has occurred. The perpetrators must be held accountable, this is occurring. The system must change so the problem or in this case abuse does not reoccur. While the Holy Father is setting the stage for system change, especially attitudinally in terms of Bishop responsibility, clearly no one person, not even the Pope can change the system by themselves.

In family therapy especially Structural Therapy you change the hierarchy and you begin to change the system. The head of this hierarchy is naming, claiming and calling out for change.

The reports by the victims of abuse who met with the Pontiff sound powerful and authentic. This was not rehearsed, this was shared grief, shared love and the beginning of healing.

Some may say it took too long. They are right. Some may say the bishops share a great responsibility in protecting the abusing priests. They are correct. Some may say it will still take a long time to heal all the hurts from decades of abuse, they are painfully correct.

The Church has had other periods of time when priests and hierarchy hurt instead of cared for the flock. The Church of Francis day was corrupt. However, what is important is to know that the abusers reflect humans and humanness and in fact stress the need for the Church. We will heal, we will grow. Unfortunately, because we are human we will find other ways to show our brokenness. When that happens let us pray voices rise up and the hurt does not extend for decades. Let us pray that with this visit we are beginning to see the end of a painful period in American Church history. Let us give thanks for a Pope who is brave, direct, caring and does not follow anyone else’s script for him.

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