By Courtney Grogan
Pope Francis has called upon young people to be vigilant in the face of “horrible crimes” of clerical sexual abuse, and to confront priests “at risk” of betraying the trust of their office. The pope issued the plea in his post-synodal apostolic exhortation on youth, Christus vivit, published Tuesday.
“If you see a priest at risk, because he has lost the joy of his ministry, or seeks affective compensation, or is taking the wrong path, remind him of his commitment to God and his people, remind him of the Gospel and urge him to hold to his course. In this way, you will contribute greatly to something fundamental: preventing these atrocities from being repeated.”
The apostolic exhortation was published in response to last year’s synod on young adults, the faith, and vocational discernment.
The pope also asked young people to seek inspiration from “the vast majority of priests” who have not “committed these horrible crimes.
Monsignor Fabio Fabene, under-secretary of the Synod of Bishops, highlighted this paragraph in his presentation of the document by the Holy See Press Office April 2.
“Pope Francis calls for the collaboration of young people also in relation to the gruesome phenomenon of sexual abuse of children, first of all through careful vigilance,” Fabene said.
This is an example of how the pope “expresses his confidence in young people,” affirming that they have much to contribute to reform and “healing this wound.
CNA asked Fabene if – given the “horrible crimes” of the abuse crisis – calling on young people to confront violent priests could put them at greater risk.
Fabene said the invitation to hold priests to account directly was “prophetic on the part of the pope,” who was entrusting young people with “this mission, this task, this closeness” in rejuvenating the heart of “priests who find themselves in difficulty” in their vocation and mission.
“I don’t see any problems with this,” he said. “I see an act of trust that the pope has in young people … that shines throughout all of the document.
The apostolic exhortation’s eight-paragraph section titled “Ending every form of abuse” makes extensive use of quotes from the final document of the Synod of Bishops on young people, faith, and vocational discernment, first published October 28.
The text of Christus vivit adds that young people “can be a source of great healing if they employ their great capacity to bring about renewal, to urge and demand consistent witness, to keep dreaming and coming up with new ideas.
“Our sins are before the eyes of everyone; they appear all too clearly in the lines on the age-old face of the Church, our Mother and Teacher,” the pope wrote in paragraph 101.
“Let us never forget that we must not abandon our Mother when she is wounded, but stand beside her, so that she can summon up all her strength and all her ability to begin ever anew.”
The new document “reaffirms the firm commitment made to adopting rigorous preventative measures intended to avoid the recurrence of these crimes, starting with the selection and formation of those to whom tasks of responsibility and education will be entrusted.”
The exhortation does not, however, include the phrase “zero tolerance.”
Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary general of the Synod of Bishops, explained that “zero tolerance” was omitted because “the pope wanted to highlight other aspects” of the abuse crisis.
“The pope could not say everything in one document,” Baldissseri noted, but said that the pope had emphasized his commitment to fighting abuse.
“Youth need to know that this problem exists and the Church doesn’t tolerate it,” Baldisseri said.
The document, addressed to “all Christian young people,” observes that because of “sexual and financial scandals” and “a clergy ill-prepared to engage effectively with the sensitivities of the young,” a substantial number of young people want nothing to do with the Church.
Pope Francis used the document to express his gratitude, “together with the Synod Fathers,” to all of those who had “the courage to report the evil they experienced.”
“They help the Church to acknowledge what happened and the need to respond decisively,” said the pope.
The “holy People of God” will “liberate us from the plague of clericalism, which is the fertile ground for all these disgraces.”
“This dark moment, ‘not without the valuable help of the young, can truly be an opportunity for a reform of epoch-making significance,’ opening us to a new Pentecost and inaugurating a new stage of purification and change capable of renewing the Church’s youth,” Pope Francis said.