Thursday, November 04, 2010

Fr Lombardi's "Reformation Day" message

Lutheran readers of this blog will be aware that we have not only celebrated All Saints Day this week, but also "Reformation Day", the anniversary of the nailing of the 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Church. Somewhat ironically then (although the irony would have been missed on most Catholics) a small group gathered in Rome on Sunday observed a new "Reformation Day" to draw attention to the scandal of child abuse in the Church (as if we needed reminding!). Gathered at Castel Sant’Angelo, a short walk from the Vatican, a victims group called “Survivors Voice” (led by two Boston-area abuse victims from the United States, Gary Bergeron and Bernie McDaid) held a vigil last Sunday to call the Church to greater action in this area.

Fr Fredrico Lombardi, the Vatican Press spokesman, met the group and read to them a personal message (not an official statement from the Pope) urging the group to see the Church as an ally in the fight against child abuse, rather than an opponent. Here is his letter (courtesy of John L. Allen Jnr):

On the occasion of “Reformation Day”, organised by “Survivor’s Voice”
By Fr. Lombardi

The windows of my office at Vatican Radio are just a few metres away, and therefore it seems fitting to me to listen, and to make a tangible sign of our attention, to your meeting.

This intervention of mine is not an official one, but because of my deep insertion and identification with the Catholic Church and the Holy See, I believe I can express the feelings shared by many regarding the object of your manifestation.

In this, I feel encouraged by the attitude of the Pope, made manifest many times, that is, to listen to the victims, and show the will to do everything necessary, so that the horrible crimes of sexual abuse may never happen again.

I must say that, even though I do not share all of your declarations and positions, I find in many of these the elements on which one can develop a pledge, that will bring solidarity and consensus between us.

It is true that the Church must be very attentive so that the children and the young, who are entrusted to her educational activities, may grow in a completely secure environment.

Yesterday morning, a hundred thousand young people were present in these places for a great celebration of their faith and of their youthfulness, and they are but a small part of the youths who take part with trust and enthusiasm in the life of the Church community. We must absolutely ensure that their growth be healthy and serene, finding all the protection which is rightfully theirs. We all have a great responsibility with regards to the future of the youth of the world.

It is true that the procedures of investigation and of intervention must be ever swifter and more effective, whether from the Church or from the civil authorities, and that there must be a good collaboration between these two, in conformity to the laws and situations of the countries concerned.

I know, you think that the Church should do more, and in a quicker way. From my point of view – even though one may and should always do more – I am convinced that the Church has done, and is doing a lot. Not only the Pope, with his words and example, but many Church communities in various parts of the world have done and are doing a lot, by way of listening to the victims as well as in the matter of prevention and formation.

Personally, I am in contact with many persons who work in this field in many countries, and I am convinced that they are doing a lot. Of course, we must continue to do more. And your cry today is an encouragement to do more. But a large part of the Church is already on the good path. The major part of the crimes belongs to times bygone. Today’s reality and that of tomorrow are more beckoning. Let us help one another to journey together in the right direction.

But the more important thing that I wanted to say to you is the following, and I feel encouraged to say it, because it seems to me that you also are aware of it.

The scourge of sexual abuses, especially against minors, but also in a general way, is one of the great scourges of today’s world. It involves and touches the Catholic Church, but we know very well that what has happened in the Church is but a small part of what has happened, and continues to happen in the world at large. The Church must first free herself of this evil, and give a good example in the fight against the abuses within her midst, but afterwards, we must all fight against this scourge, knowing that it is an immense one in today’s world, a scourge which increases the more easily when it remains hidden; and many are indeed very happy that all the attention is focussed on the Church, and not on them, for this allows them to carry on undisturbed.

This fight must be fought by us together, uniting our forces against the spread of this scourge, which uses new means and ways to reach out today, helped in this by internet and the new forms of communication, by the crisis hitting families, by sexual tourism and traffic which exploit the poverty of the people in various continents.

What the Church has learnt in these years – prompted also by you and by other groups – and the initiatives that she can take to purify herself and be a model of security for the young, must be of use to all. For this, I invite you to look at the Church ever more as a possible ally, or – according to me – as an ally already active today in the pursuit of the most noble goals of your endeavours.


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At Thursday, November 04, 2010 5:26:00 am , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

“Somewhat ironically then (although the irony would have been missed on most Catholics) a small group gathered in Rome on Sunday observed a new “Reformation Day” to draw attention to the scandal of child abuse in the Church (as if we needed reminding!).”

I don’t think it was ironic at all; it was a deliberate evocation of the events which “Reformation Day” recalls.

Bear in mind that:

(1) Luther was initially motivated by real and serious abuses that were widespread in the church, up to the highest level.

(2) The Lutheran Reformation was not the only response to these abuses. The Council of Trent, and the whole Counter-Reformation, was similarly a response to them.

It’s one of the great “what-ifs” of history to speculate about how events might have unfolded if there had been an effective orthodox response to abuses before Luther’s reformation. Would it have forestalled, or greatly weakened the impact of, Luther’s actions? And would that orthodox response have been very different from the Counter-Reformation that we in fact had, given that it would not have been shaped by reaction to Luther?

I think that Reformation Day was chosen for this event to point out that a similar situation may face the church today. The sexual abuse crisis is a real and serious abuse within the church – not just in terms of the abusive acts themselves, but also in terms of the church’s past response to it, which points to a crisis of authority, a crisis of accountability and, I suggest, a crisis of clericalism. To a large extent the immediate issue of child abuse for the future has been addressed through proper standards, protocols and procedures – though of course continued vigilance is needed – but it remains to be seen how (and, God help us, perhaps even whether) the church will address the broader issues.

It’s unrealistic to think that it will be “as you were” in the Catholic church, but with better child protection procedures in place and, basically, no attention paid to the wider lessons. Large numbers of Catholics have been profoundly shaken and disillusioned by this episode, and their disillusion will be intensified if they perceive that that is the outcome the (institutional) church is aiming for. That disillusion must have consequences.

We don’t have to repeat the mistakes of the sixteenth century. But we very easily can.

At Thursday, November 04, 2010 7:51:00 pm , Anonymous Gareth said...

A major problem with certain groups that make a song and dance about sexual abuse (The 'We are the Church' movement in the U.S is a classic example) is that they do not stop with their criticism of how the hierachy handled the situation, but take the next step and argue that the Church should also change its teachings on important magesterial matters such as the nature of the priesthood and moral teachings etc, etc.

One wonders if their sole motivation is to solely make a message about the crisis of sexual abuse in the Church...

Such groups are dangerous.

Being faithful to magesterial teaching rather than dissenting from it will have a much more positive impact for the Church.

At Thursday, November 04, 2010 8:10:00 pm , Anonymous Gareth said...

Robert: so the Internet has been an absolutely indispensable requirement in spreading

Gareth: Another interesting point here is often young Catholics in western countries are primarily educated in moral, devotional and liturgical matters from what they read off the Net.

I know the vast majority of what I have learnt of the Catholic faith has not been based on what I have experienced at parish level or from priests I have met (one or two being the rare exception) or what I learnt at school, but rather what is presented on the Internet.

I wonder how many other young Catholics could be put their hand up to this. I highly suspect a lot.

At Thursday, November 04, 2010 11:00:00 pm , Anonymous Tony said...

... and who share the typical bishop’s belief that the Church only began in 1962.

Crikey Robert, you certainly seemed to have missed the RCIA class on humility!

At Friday, November 05, 2010 4:24:00 am , Anonymous Schütz said...

But there were real and acknowledged "abuses", the evidence of the Church's own documents and statements shows that.

At Friday, November 05, 2010 11:00:00 am , Anonymous Christine said...

the printing-press was an absolutely indispensable requirement in spreading Lutheranism (historians of all religions agree on this, and Luther himself acknowledged it),

Spot on!

I know the vast majority of what I have learnt of the Catholic faith has not been based on what I have experienced at parish level or from priests I have met (one or two being the rare exception) or what I learnt at school, but rather what is presented on the Internet.


I guess I was somewhat blessed in having one Catholic parent before I converted. Of course, my Catholic dad was a product of the preconciliar period and he died shortly after the Second Vatican Council ended so what Catholic exposure I received was in that context. When he took me to his parish church the beauty of the building, the smell of incense, the strong sense of the numinous is something I will never forget. The seeds were sown way back then. Yet, the dedication and warmth of the good people who guided me through the RCIA process years later were a very important part of my conversion as well. The local parish is still the place, IMHO, where Catholic formation should take place, although I recognize that some parishes do a better job than others and that must be addressed.

Under our current bishop parishes have been instructed to hold sessions inviting parishioners to attend and learn -- or re-learn -- the essentials of what it means to be Catholic in terms of history, dogma, doctrine, etc.

At Friday, November 05, 2010 6:53:00 pm , Anonymous Christine said...

To me, Jesus’ ministry, as depicted in the Gospels, was not about buildings and incense but about his relationships with his people. I think the postconciliar church has tried to get back to that.

By using the term "preconciliar" I am not trying to make a value judgment, I am simply stating a historical fact. The Mass my father attended was in Latin, he received Holy Communion at the altar rail, on the tongue, there were no female altar servers and there was still very much an emphasis on the supernatural aspects of the faith. It seems to me that some of the greatest saints of the Church were nurtured on that spirituality and gave wonderful examples of love of God expressed by loving others.

We also grew up in a European culture that breathed in its Catholicism as naturally as eating and drinking. The beautiful roadside shrines and crucifixes, the pillars in the town square upon which rested sculptures of the Virgin, the Saints or the local Bishop made a deep impression on me as a little girl (as did the kind Sisters who taught me at the Catholic kindergarten I attended). God seemed to be everywhere (a very "Catholic" idea, I think).

I am glad that things are moving back to the center. I stood back and observed some of the liturgical and ecclesiastical madness in the immediate aftermath of the Council and surmised that it would be a while before I made my move to Rome.

On the other hand, my husband tells me that one of the most meaningful Masses he ever attended was when he was a Marine serving in Viet Nam. The Mass was celebrated on the top of a Jeep by a Catholic chaplain. I try to keep that in mind as well :)

At Friday, November 05, 2010 10:38:00 pm , Anonymous Schütz said...

Dear Tony,

Keep in mind our friend Christine's spiritual journey. I rather think that her experience of the Church has been possibly a little broarder than yours even. She has seen the Church in Europe, Australia and the US. She has seen the pre-conciliar and post-conciliar Church. She has been a fully dedicated member of both Protestant and Catholic Churches. That gives her quite a breadth of scope, I would think, and hardly just an experience of "part of the Church".

At Saturday, November 06, 2010 9:40:00 pm , Anonymous Gareth said...

At least that would be a few more people than that would be interested in your view.

At Saturday, November 06, 2010 9:55:00 pm , Anonymous Tony said...

I try to operate on the adage that what other people think of me is none of my business, Gareth.

At Saturday, November 06, 2010 11:02:00 pm , Anonymous Gareth said...

That's all good, but at the end of the day what God thinks about us is very much our business.


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