We are Catholics, faithful to the Church instituted by Jesus Christ and handed down to us through apostolic succession. We affirm the teachings of the Church and our need for the grace we receive through the Sacraments. We are grateful for the ministry of those deacons, priests, and bishops who remain faithful to their vocations and to the teaching of the Church, and who respond with generosity to the needs of the faithful.
We are grieved and angered by recent revelations of abuse within the Church. Priests and bishops have perpetrated unconscionable acts of abuse against both children and adults, and have worked together to conceal that abuse and protect abusers. Such abuses do violence to the wellbeing of victims and their families, to the lay faithful, to the faithful among the clergy, to the broader Christian community, to all people, and to the body of Jesus Christ.
We note with gratitude the vocal responses of our Holy Father and of some bishops and pastors to this crisis. We appreciate the efforts of our fellow lay men and women to respond to these grave evils with prayer and penance, and we join in these efforts. We are also convinced that radical changes are necessary in order to restore confidence of the lay faithful in our shepherds’ willingness to exercise their episcopal authority with fidelity to the teaching of the Church. The Church teaches us that reconciliation requires not merely sorrow for sin, but also the expression of a firm purpose of amendment and suitable actions done as outward signs of penance that flow from an interior conversion of heart (CCC 1430). Responses to the current crises from some quarters—including the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops—have left us in doubt that the hierarchy in the United States of America is unified in its willingness to perform such actions. We see the grave physical and spiritual harms that the perpetrators and their enablers have inflicted on victim-survivors. We see our fellow Catholics leaving the Church, driven by a lack of confidence that the men who have been entrusted with our spiritual welfare will use their authority for good rather than for evil. We ourselves are shaken, and cling to the promise of Jesus that the gates of Hell shall not prevail against His Church (Mt 16:18).
Lumen Gentium, the Second Vatican Council’s dogmatic constitution on the Church, teaches that “the laity have the right, as do all Christians, to receive in abundance from their spiritual shepherds the spiritual goods of the Church.” It goes on to state that the lay faithful “are, by reason of the knowledge, competence or outstanding ability which they may enjoy, permitted and sometimes even obliged to express their opinion on those things which concern the good of the Church.” It is in obedience to this council that we undertake our current efforts with confidence.
Motivated by love for our Lord Jesus Christ and for His Church, we join together to exercise our responsibility and fulfill our moral duty to call our shepherds to excise the rot from the Church and to return to fidelity. We ask our pastors, our bishops, and the Holy Father to act and to accomplish the following:
- Publicly admit the grave sins of commission and omission by members of the clergy and perform public acts of penance. Listening to the stories of victim-survivors and understanding the impact of abuse must be central to this effort.
- Lay bare to secular and lay-led forensic examination all records of abuse allegations and how they were handled in every diocese in the nation.
- Remove from public ministry every member of the clergy who committed abuse or worked to conceal it, and submit these men to canonical justice and to secular justice wherever applicable. Every bishop who knew of abuse and protected abusers rather than the children of God must resign and submit himself to a life of prayer and penance.
- Reform seminaries and other places of formation to protect both children and legal adults from predation. Particular attention must be paid to intra-hierarchical abuses of legal adults, which are not addressed by the provisions of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.
- Create structures to more fully involve the lay faithful in the workings of each diocese, especially with regard to intra-hierarchical cases of sexual abuse and misconduct. The review boards established pursuant to the Charter might serve as models for welcoming and handling reports of misconduct and abuse within the hierarchy.
- Work to extend statutes of limitation to provide for temporal justice wherever possible, and in every instance cease opposition to such extensions.
We recognize that such actions would bring about substantial changes within the Church in the United States. A Church that followed such a course of action might be smaller and poorer than the Church is today. Courageous action on the part of the clergy is nonetheless gravely necessary. Such actions would restore the confidence of the lay faithful, make a start at restitution for the evils committed through the abuse of the Church’s power, and demonstrate commitment to the unity of the Church’s teachings.
We derive courage from the example of St. Catherine of Siena, who through her correspondence with Pope Gregory XI helped to bring about renewal during a time of crisis for the Church. We echo her exhortation to every deacon, priest, and bishop in our country and the Church: “Proclaim the truth and do not be silent through fear.”
St. Catherine of Siena, pray for us.
St. John Vianney, pray for us,
St. Maximilian Kolbe, pray for us.
St. Thomas Aquinas, pray for us.
Our Lady of Victory, pray for us.
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