As you all know, as a member of the Executive Board of the Union of General Superior I had the opportunity to participate in the Assembly of Presidents of the Episcopal Conferences around the world, convened by Pope Francis to address the “plague of sexual, power and conscience abuses” that have happened in the Church. A necessary, timely and clarifying assembly.
I do not intend to expose in this fraternal letter the great amount of contributions, reflections and challenges that were addressed in this meeting. You all have access to the documents that were worked and the Pope’s final speech in which he offered a clear synthesis of the challenges we have as a Church. I just want to share with you all the reflections that I was making those days.
During the assembly, participants were able to listen to several people who have been victims of sexual abuse by religious or priests. Several of these testimonies were offered as an aid to meditation in the community prayer at the beginning and at the end of the days. I assure you that they truly were a great help for prayer and awareness of the extraordinary gravity of the problem.
1-A Piarist meditation
During those days, I did my meditation by keeping in mind the Proem that Calasanz wrote for his Constitutions. I have read it and thought about it intensely, in light of what we are living in the Church. I think it is a text that illuminates us a lot in what we have to do as Piarists. I share three brief underlines:
A – Calasanz thinks about offering children the possibility of a full life. He expresses it with strength and clarity: “It is to be expected a happy course of his whole life.” And he says that this will be possible if, since childhood, children are imbued with piety and letters. Brethren, Calasanz founded the Order of the Pious Schools to offer children the best means to guarantee them a full life, based on the values of the gospel. That’s what we Piarists are for.
Listening to the victims, we can perceive how far they are from this desire of Calasanz, of that fullness of life, of that happiness. How is it possible that people consecrated to Christ have provoked so much pain and so many vital ruptures?
B – Calasanz insists on attention to poor children. He asks them not to be despised, but to be cared for with tenacious patience and love. And he bases his conviction on Mt 25, 40: “What you did with a brother of mine, of those little ones, with me you did.”
If we look calmly at everything that has happened in relation to sexual, power and conscience abuse in minors, we realize that there is a common background element: the vulnerability of these children, of these adolescents. The severity of the abuse is increased, if possible, when it occurs in vulnerable people.
C – Finally, Calasanz defends strongly that the transcendence of the task it proposes to carry forward requires an adequate selection of the candidates, a careful initial formation, and a permanent care of the growth of each one, so that we can become worthy cooperators of Truth.
The education of children and young people, and especially those who are most in need, demands capable, well-chosen, well-educated and well-accompanied people.
I have enough of these three examples to express my conviction that we should reflect very thoroughly the Proem of Calasanz to its Constitutions, because it clearly illuminates the great issues that are at stake in the life of the Church. Among them, the three I just quoted: The mission of the Church is to offer fullness of life to children and young people; the vulnerability in which many of them are found is a strong call to be with them to help them grow; only well-prepared people, clear in their vocation and aware of their responsibility, can be good news for children. And all of this is in the heart of the Pious Schools.
2-A background question
What is at stake at this time in the Church? It is good that we ask this question quite clearly. It’s necessary. There are still people who think that there is too much talk about this issue of sexual abuse; still some continue to believe that this problem is from Europe, USA and Australia, and that it does not affect them; there are still defensive attitudes that prioritize the defense of the institution above justice due to survivors, etc.
Pope Francis convened the Assembly, among other things, to contribute to a clearer awareness in the Church about the problem we are experiencing. I mean, we need to be aware, even if it looks incredible.
Of all the contributions I heard in the Assembly, it seemed to me particularly significant what Cardinal Tagle, Archbishop of Manila, said. He focused on the text of Jesus encountering Thomas, in which the Lord asks Thomas to touch his wounds with his hands. Only then can Thomas believe and proclaim his faith in the resurrection: “My lord and my God.” Only if we touch the wounds of Christ can we proclaim our faith in his resurrection. There’s no other way.
Those sent to proclaim the core of our faith, the death and resurrection of Christ, can only do so with authenticity if they are in contact with the wounds of humanity. This is true in Thomas, and it is true in the Church of all time, and especially in ours. And this is the topic we’re talking about, no doubt.
3-The root of the problem
In his “Letter to the People of God” on August 20, 2018, Pope Francis addressed clearly the problem of sexual, power and conscience abuse, and directly related it to clericalism, “an anomalous way of understanding the authority of the Church and generating a scission in the ecclesial body and that helps to perpetuate many of the evils that we denounce today. “
There is no doubt that clericalism is one of the roots of the problem that we live in today in the Church and that has caused so much suffering in the survivors, in their families, and in the ecclesial community. That clericalism can manifest itself in many attitudes and modes of action that we sometimes observe. For example: to think that the Church is above civil authority, that it has nothing to say to us; to think that it is more important to safeguard the honor of the ecclesial institution than to respond to the pain of the victims; to think that, as our problem is small compared to the dimensions of child abuse in different societies, the thing is not so much; blaming the messenger (the social media) instead of looking at ourselves.
There are numerous evangelical passages in which we can find references of Jesus to these clerical attitudes. Of all of them, it seems to us that we can be very enlightened by what we know as the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican. Perhaps the key to clericalism is to think better, different and separate from others.
4-Three challenges of the ecclesial community and, therefore, of the Pious Schools.
In the light of the Assembly of Presidents of the Episcopal Conferences, I believe that the path we have to make is quite clear. We could synthesize it in three verbs: healing, protecting and leading. I explain them briefly.
HEALING. The sexual abuse committed, the slowness to confront them, the secrecy and in too many cases cover-up of the crimes, the lack of empathic listening of the survivors and their families, the lack of complaints of the abusers before the civil authorities, the guilty blindness that we have lived, are not just a serious sin. They’re a crime. A social and ecclesial crime committed against vulnerable people and consented – or at least not sufficiently prevented – by those who had to guarantee the safety of minors.
Everything we do now will always be insufficient. But we have to do it. Sincerely asking forgiveness; accompanying the survivor; denouncing the culprit, while trying to help him to remake himself; compensating the damage committed… All of this must be done, with all the consequences and with full clarity and transparency.
Protecting. I take from the assembly a conviction: “NEVER AGAIN.” We have to stop it from happening again. The Church, in all its fields, must guarantee that it will never happen again. There are many tasks that we have to carry forward to make this so. Among them: clear and precise legislative changes; serious child advocacy protocols; mechanisms of control and supervision of persons constituted in authority in the Church; appropriate selection and formation of priests, religious men and women and pastoral agents, guaranteeing their certification in “Protection of the minor” as a requirement for ordination or the religious profession; Serious work for a true conversion of soul, heart, attitudes and options, so that the Church never thinks more in itself but in those who have the obligation to serve and care, etc. The list of decisions we have to make to get this “never Again” is long and demanding.
Leading. The Church should not only guarantee the protection of minors in its midst. It must lead the fight for the rights of minors and their protection in all contexts and in all cultures. It belongs to the mission of the Church to work in depth, in communion with all the social instances committed in that struggle, to radically eliminate what we know to be a serious social problem: the abuse of minors, which is committed in so many spaces and contexts. The abuse of children in the world far exceeds the borders of our Church. Our mission is to change the world, to bring it closer to the values of the Kingdom of God.
But the Church will only be credible in this struggle if it solves with clarity and transparency the other two verbs (healing and protecting). This is our challenge. We have to assume that, for the sake of all children, and for our commitment to the kingdom, the Church must be once again a credible institution capable of being a moral and social reference in our world. Logically, we must work the three verbs at the same time. The three in depth. And the three with a certain discernment and fulfillment.
5-Let’s make some steps as Piarists
Saint Joseph Calasanz founded the Order to fully educate children and young people, to guarantee their growth and vital fulfillment. There is nothing more contrary to the Calasanctian charism than harming a child. That is why we must embark on a clear path to ensure that Pious Schools are not only a safe place for children and young people, but an opportunity of full life for all. All the demarcations and Piarists presences are working thoroughly to advance in the right direction. Thank you, everyone.
As a small example of the tasks that we want to undertake, I inform you that I have summoned all the trainers of the Order – all without exception – this coming July in Rome, to address with them all the dynamisms that we must carry forward in our Initial Formation for young Piarists to be – more and more – true cooperators of Truth.
I invite you to pray for these intentions, and to keep in mind the people who have suffered and continue to suffer for this cause.
Receive a fraternal hug
Fr. Pedro Aguado Sch. P.
 Jn 20, 27-28.
 FRANCIS, Letter to the People of God. August 20, 2018.