08 August 2019, The Tablet

From the people and of the people


The victims and survivors of child sexual abuse committed by Catholic clergy are almost invariably Catholics themselves, at least at the time of the offence. And others in the household of the faith are wounded too – parents or siblings who are disgusted and angry with the perpetrators, and indeed the wider Catholic community, which feels its faith in the goodness of God has met a serious challenge.

Priests are a particularly vulnerable part of that wider “victim” group. They report feeling dejected and embarrassed, of walking down the street head down, avoiding eye contact, even of leaving off the clerical collar to hide their identity. This is what Pope Francis is talking about in his new letter to Priests, observing that they are often held guilty – even by themselves – of sins they have not committed.

The Pope is right to be concerned. Priests need to be, and deserve to be, cherished, respected and cared for. Ordination to the priesthood is a fount of amazing grace, and Francis wants the clergy to be sustained in their ministry by the joy it can bring. Francis once identified the right sort of ministry as that where the clergy, like good shepherds, know “the smell of the sheep”.

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