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From the Office of Communications

 

This article first appeared in The Arlington Catholic Herald. View it here

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Asking for forgiveness, Pope Francis told abuse survivors that “despicable actions” caused by clergy have been hidden for too long and had been “camouflaged with a complicity that cannot be explained.”

“There is no place in the church’s ministry for those who commit these abuses, and I commit myself not to tolerate harm done to a minor by any individual, whether a cleric or not,” and to hold all bishops accountable for protecting young people, the pope said during a special early morning Mass for six survivors of abuse by clergy. The Mass and private meetings held later with each individual took place in the Domus Sanctae Marthae — the pope’s residence and a Vatican guesthouse where the survivors also stayed.

Pope FrancisIn a lengthy, off-the-cuff homily in Spanish July 7, the pope thanked the men and women — two each from Ireland, the United Kingdom and Germany, for coming to the Vatican to meet with him. The Vatican provided its own translations of the unscripted homily.

The pope praised their courage for speaking out about their abuse, saying that telling the truth “was a service of love, since for us it shed light on a terrible darkness in the life of the church.”

The pope said the scandal of abuse caused him “deep pain and suffering. So much time hidden, camouflaged with a complicity that cannot be explained.”

He called sex abuse a “crime and grave sin,” that was made even worse when carried out by clergy.

“This is what causes me distress and pain at the fact that some priests and bishops, by sexually abusing minors” violated the innocence of children and their own vocation to God, he said.

“It is like a sacrilegious cult, because these boys and girls had been entrusted to the priestly charism in order to be brought to God. And those people sacrificed them to the idol of concupiscence,” the pope said.

The pope asked God “for the grace to weep, the grace for the church to weep and make reparations for her sons and daughters who betrayed their mission, who abused innocent persons” and left life-long scars.

He told the men and women sitting in the pews that God loved them and he prayed that “the remnants of the darkness which touched you may be healed.”

In an effort to help the abuse survivors heal, the pope met individually with each one, accompanied by a loved one or family member and a translator, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, told journalists.

The pope spent a total of three hours and twenty minutes in closed-door talks with each person, showing the rest of the church that the path of healing is through dialogue and truly listening to victims, Father Lombardi said.

The Jesuit priest said the men and women were visibly moved by the Mass and meetings and had “felt listened to,” and that the encounter was “something positive on their journey” of healing.

The length and nature of the pope’s very first meeting with abuse survivors represent “a sign, a model, an example” for the rest of the church, that “listening is needed” along with tangible efforts for understanding and reconciliation, he said.

Responding to critics that the July 7 meeting and Mass were ineffectual and part of a publicity stunt, Father Lombardi said that if people had been able to see, as he had, the reactions of the men and women who took part in the private gathering, “it was clear that it was absolutely not a public relations event.”

The raw emotion on people’s faces, including the pope’s, as well as his strongly worded homily, all showed the effort had been about “a dialogue with a pastor and father who tries to understand deeply” the wrongs that have been committed and the need “to be honest about reality,” the Vatican spokesman said.

It was the first time Pope Francis met directly with a group of victims of clerical abuse, following a tradition begun by his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, who met with victims for the first time as pope in 2008 during a visit to Washington, D.C. The retired pope subsequently met with other victims during his pastoral visits to Sydney, Malta, Great Britain and Germany.

Pope Francis had told reporters in May that he would be meeting with a group of survivors of abuse from various countries and would celebrate a private Mass with them. The pope had asked Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston — the head of a new Vatican commission on protecting minors — to help organize the encounter.

The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, which the pope established in December, met July 6 at the Vatican, and its members, including Cardinal O’Malley, were also present at the July 7 Mass.

The commission, which currently has eight members, including a survivor of clerical sex abuse, mental health professionals and experts in civil and church law, is tasked with laying out a pastoral approach to helping victims and preventing abuse.

 

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By: Sr. Clare Hunter

Yesterday’s post for Encourage & Teach by Bishop Loverde, “Stand for Marriage, Stand for Faith,” originally printed in the Arlington Catholic Herald, is a timely reminder of the importance of “standing” for marriage, and not losing hope in the battle to protect the truths of marriage as one man and one woman. On one hand, it still hurts my brain that such a blog must be written and that we have to define and discuss what marriage is; yet such things shouldn’t surprise me when glib articles are being written about throwing the best “divorce party” and where to get the best “divorce cake.” It makes sense that a culture that celebrates divorce would be confused about the meaning and purpose of marriage. I agree that it seems rather ridiculous to claim that marriage is defined as permanent, monogamous and life-bearing, if that is not witnessed. Once we take away that definition, anything can take its place. And it has.

Divorce CakeAlthough sometimes necessary to protect one spouse or the other financially or even physically, divorce is always a bad thing. It is a painful and very sensitive experience for men and women, especially for their children. It has touched each of our lives, and our families and friends. Divorce is a death, and time is needed to heal and process through the shattering of lives and emotional heartbreak. This is painful and entails the acceptance of suffering. It entails heroic acts of forgiveness, mercy and the dependence on others for support, most especially from the grace of God. All of this can seem rather repulsive in a culture that rejects the idea of dependence – on God or others, and certainly does all it can to avoid suffering.

We all know experientially, and science has proven, that laughter is the best medicine and humor heals. But are we doing greater harm to those suffering from a divorce by encouraging or turning to sardonic humor to deal with the emotions from a painful situation? As the media and social networks report and highlight this trend, will we continue to become numb to the suffering of those we love who experience divorce? Will divorce parties and cakes become part of a life event? It seems to me, this will only add to the confusion of marriage as it loses the sacredness and reverence for which it was created. Might I suggest, rather than a party and cake, offering instead prayers, Masses and sacrifices for the couple and their children, whose lives have been changed forever, and who will need true love and support for the rest of their lives.

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By: Natalie Plumb

If she hadn’t agreed to write her column in advance on “Bought with a Price,” Arlington Catholic Herald columnist Elizabeth Foss likely would not have read its contents. But what she discovered when she took on the task was that Bishop Loverde has much more to offer than a pointing finger.

You can order your own copy of “Bought with a Price” through the diocesan website or Amazon Kindle.

This column originally appeared in the Arlington Catholic Herald.

By: Elizabeth Foss, Catholic Herald Columnist

Shortly before this column was due, I received a note from the Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde’s office explaining that he was planning to reissue his 2006 pastoral letter, “Bought with a Price.” The note went on to say that I might recall that letter and that this reissued letter was updated and full of practical suggestions, a study guide and a plan of life. It was destined to be a great resource for families. Attached for my convenience was an early copy in case I was able to write a column for the first week it was released.

BWAPcollage2Sure! A great resource for families, something new for me to read, a good reason to get a little extension on the column deadline so I could work over the weekend, all lined up to agree that I’d be happy to write on the bishop’s topic of choice. I didn’t recall the 2006 letter at all, but that didn’t deter me. I’d planned to write about a Lenten plan for families. This should work with that, right? The note said it’s a great resource for families.

I never looked to see what the pastoral letter addressed. I agreed to write about it without ever opening the 80-page PDF to see the subject. As I committed my weekend to it, I didn’t even know it was 80 pages.

It’s about pornography. I’ll admit right here that I would not have read this letter if I hadn’t promised to do so, sight unseen. Who wants to sit in her car during the only bright sunshine of the week, in the parking lot of the soccer field during warm-ups, and read what a celibate man has to say about porn?

You do. I did. This letter is so well-written, so worth reading. I started by cutting and pasting quote-worthy passages onto a blank document. Before I’d finished, I had more than a thousand words of quotes. I thought about just mailing those in and calling it a weekend. It didn’t take me long to recognize that instead, I need to persuade you, dear reader, to just read the whole thing.

Click here to continue reading this Arlington Catholic Herald column.

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I had an abortion in 1995. The next several years of my life seemed to be a series of one awful thing after the other, it became overwhelming. So many terrible things happened, I felt like I was going to have a nervous breakdown.

At first I wondered if God was punishing me. Then I realized I could blame God, or I could take responsibility for what I did. It was MY DECISION. God had nothing to do with it, nor did He “punish” me for what I had done. I was punishing myself!!

I had no idea I could be forgiven for such a grave sin. Even though I went to church, it seemed like the priest only talked about “respect for life”, and never spoke about being able to be forgiven after having an abortion. The guilt I felt on Mother’s Day and March for Life weekend at church was incredibly painful.

For many years I wanted to confess my sin, but was afraid … I would not even tell my cousin who is a priest.

Then one day (17 years later), I was in a restroom at a church I was visiting when I saw a paper that read “help after abortion.” As I went on reading the piece of paper that was taped to the wall, it said there is healing and forgiveness after abortion. Even after reading it I thought “Forgiveness??? Really???” At the bottom of the page were tabs to pull off and a phone number to call. I pulled one off, and even then, I was hesitant to call.

After a week or so, I called and spoke with Jo at the Diocese of Arlington. She was so supportive and positive. She told me about Rachel’s Vineyard [our diocesan retreat]. It sounded too good to be true. I signed up to attend the upcoming retreat.

That retreat turned my life around!!

I feel so blessed to have experienced the forgiveness of God, and my retreat was on Divine Mercy weekend. It was amazing. The priest we had at our retreat was a Father of Mercy, and he was such an empathetic, kind man. He was not the priest that was scheduled to be at our retreat, but God sent him to us, and he will stay in my heart forever. What a wonderful man.

The women I met there know more about me than friends I’ve known for years. We stay in touch and we all went to Mass together last month and had a luncheon. We are planning a get together around the Christmas holidays and there is a true bond between us. It’s absolutely wonderful.

I pray that more people who need healing and forgiveness learn about Project Rachel and attend a retreat. It will be the beginning of the rest of your life. You can be forgiven and you can heal. Just let God in. I realized God never meant for me to hurt for all those years, He never did anything to punish me. He loves us. We are His children. Remember, He said: “Come to me, all who are weary.”

Please go to Him if you are weary and He will give you peace. God Bless You.

Note: There is a Project Rachel retreat occurring in Northern Virginia, November 2-4. There are still open spaces if you or someone you know is in search of healing after an abortion.

Diocesan Post-Abortion Ministry provides referral to specially trained priests and/or professional counselors, healing retreats and written materials. For confidential assistance please call 1-888-456-HOPE (4673) or email info@helpafterabortion.org.

 

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By: Thérèse Bermpohl   

Divine Mercy Sunday occurs on the Sunday after Easter

There are scores of women and men suffering after abortion.  They fear condemnation by their community and, even worse, the refusal of forgiveness.  Well over half of the women who have had abortions say they felt pressured or coerced by family members, the father of the child and friends.  Many say that they didn’t feel they ever had a real choice and they were never made aware of other options.  These same women are often brought to despair after their abortions, feeling ostracized from the Church, believing that their sin is “the unforgivable one.”  Reports indicate that as many as 1/3 of all women have had an abortion and, according to the Guttmacher Institute, 27% of those choosing abortion identify themselves as Catholic. Chances are, we all know someone who has been affected by abortion and is in need of God’s mercy.     

As we get ready to celebrate the Feast of Divine Mercy Sunday, it’s a good time to recall the words of Jesus, spoken to St. Faustina, “Let the greatest sinners place their trust in my mercy. They have the right before others to trust in the abyss of My mercy.”  Let this Divine Mercy Sunday remind us of the need to reach out to those suffering with the grief and heartbreak of abortion.      

"For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world."

 

 Without condemnation, let us offer them words of hope and consolation.  I echo the words Pope Benedict XVI spoke to the Kenyan Bishops when they visited the Vatican, “The community should be open to welcome back all who repent of having participated in the grave sin of abortion, and should guide them with pastoral charity to accept the grace of forgiveness, the need for penance, and the joy of entering once more into the new life of Christ.”         

The Project Rachel staff at the Diocese of Arlington is ready to assist all those wounded after abortion with a confidential phone line, priest referrals, counseling, retreats and aftercare (Aftercare allows women who have attended either the PR Retreat or the Day of Recollection to continue their healing journey with evenings of prayer, confession, discussion and fellowship).  To learn more about our programs, please contact us at 703-841-2504 or visit our Web site  

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