"Like the Curé of Ars, you serve 'in the trenches', bearing the burden of the day and the heat, confronting an endless variety of situations in your effort to care for and accompany God’s people. I want to say a word to each of you who, often without fanfare and at personal cost, amid weariness, infirmity and sorrow, carry out your mission of service to God and to your people. Despite the hardships of the journey, you are writing the finest pages of the priestly life," he writes.
He describes how he shared with the Italian bishops his worry that, in more than a few places, "our priests feel themselves attacked and blamed for crimes they did not commit."
The Church has become "more attentive" to the cry of victims of abuse. "This has been a time of great suffering in the lives of those who experienced such abuse, but also in the lives of their families and of the entire People of God.
The Church is committed to the reforms needed to encourage "a culture of pastoral care" so that the culture of abuse will have no room to develop, much less continue, he continues.
This pain has affected priests. "Many priests have shared with him their outrage at what happened and their frustration that “for all their hard work, they have to face the damage that was done, the suspicion and uncertainty to which it has given rise, and the doubts, fears and disheartenment felt by more than a few," he writes.
"Without denying or dismissing the harm caused by some of our brothers, it would be unfair not to express our gratitude to all those priests who faithfully and generously spend their lives in the service of others. They embody a spiritual fatherhood capable of weeping with those who weep. Countless priests make of their lives a work of mercy in areas or situations that are often hostile, isolated or ignored, even at the risk of their lives. I acknowledge and appreciate your courageous and steadfast example; in these times of turbulence, shame and pain, you demonstrate that you have joyfully put your lives on the line for the sake of the Gospel."
He warns against "a sadness that can turn into a habit and lead us slowly to accept evil and injustice by quietly telling us: 'It has always been like this'. A sadness that stifles every effort at change and conversion by sowing resentment and hostility."
And he urges them not to withdraw from people and communities in response, or to seek refuge in closed and elitist groups. "Ultimately, this stifles and poisons the soul."