Letter to the People of God

Photo Credit: Vatican News
Photo Credit: Vatican News

This week, Pope Francis published an unusually blunt letter on abuse. In it, he condemns unequivocally both the abuse of minors and the failure to hold perpetrators to account.

He describes abuse as both a crime and a sin and acknowledges the terrible damage that it causes. He apologises to all who have been hurt and says: "I acknowledge once more the sufferings endured by many minors due to sexual abuse, the abuse of power and the abuse of conscience perpetrated by a significant number of clerics and consecrated persons."

Fr Damian Howard SJ, Provincial of the Jesuits in Britain, said: "The Jesuits in Britain unreservedly welcome Pope Francis’ letter. We support his call both 'to create a culture' in which cases of abuse do not arise, and to 'prevent the possibility of their being covered up and perpetuated'. We share his conviction that renewed conversion must involve the participation of the faithful at all levels of our Church. We are keenly aware that words alone are never an adequate response to the crisis of abuse, which is why we undertake to continue to seek out practical ways to respond to the pain of victim-survivors and to purge our common life of the scourge of clericalism."

The letter comes two weeks after the Independent Inquiry on Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) reported on Ampleforth and Downside schools and a week after the publication of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report on sexual abuse in six Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania. Both reports are shocking in their revelations and the details of the abuse and suffering caused. The Pope’s letter demonstrates how much he has learnt from listening to survivors: “Looking back to the past no effort to beg pardon and seek to repair the harm will ever be sufficient.”

Safeguarding is a priority for the Jesuits in Britain; they have had an independent Safeguarding Commission for many years to give impartial advice on this aspect of the life and mission of the British Province. They also employ a professional Safeguarding Officer who handles casework and training for Jesuits and their co-workers.

The Chair of the Provincial Safeguarding Commission, Mr Kevin Barry, commented on the Pope’s letter: "This is leadership from the top. The Pope is obviously pained by these terrible crimes and wants to create a culture where safeguarding is part of the mission of the Church.  In England, Wales and Scotland, we have for some years developed clear safeguarding policies and practice and these are constantly under review and renewal. The Pope’s linking of abuse to clericalism is helpful, as it is often a lack of accountability that lies at the heart of failure to take action when abuse is suspected."

Read the full text: Letter to the People of God 

For more information on the work of the Jesuits in Britain in safeguarding

To contact the Provincial Safeguarding Coordinator, Mrs Jo Norman, email: safeguarding@jesuit.org.uk