"Yesterday Pope Francis met with Dutch bishops in a 90-minute private session in the library of the Papal Apartment in the Apostolic Palace. The meeting took place in a very open, cordial, fraternal spirit that consisted of conversation, questions and answers. At the conclusion the Pope presented the bishops with a printed address which certainly contained some of the thoughts that had been exchanged among the bishops during their long, private meeting with the Pope.
The purpose of the printed address is to indicate the Pope’s deep awareness of the pastoral situations taking place in Holland at this time. This text is a matter of public record for the Church in a particular country. The goal of the long, fraternal conversation is to foster fraternity, collegiality, openness and trust among the bishops. Many of the Dutch bishops who came away from their meeting with the pope said that they were strengthened, encouraged, emboldened, consoled and challenged in their ministry. They spoke of the deep fraternity and mutual understanding that exists between them and the Pope.
Among the many issues facing the Dutch Church was the very serious sexual abuse crisis in that country. In one paragraph of the printed text provided to the Dutch bishops, Pope Francis writes: “In particular I wish to express my compassion and to ensure my closeness in prayer to every victim of sexual abuse, and to their families; I ask you to continue to support them along the painful path of healing, that they have undertaken with courage”.
To intimate that this is the first time the Pope addressed the sexual abuse crisis is incorrect. We have all seen how freely and openly Pope Francis engages with people, speaks openly and courageously, and is unafraid to address many of the very difficult problems and questions of our times. Some of these matters are addressed in a public format, i.e., through “Ad Limina” addresses, documents, public letters. Most of the issues are dealt with, however, in countless pastoral settings and meetings with heads of Curial departments, bishops and Cardinals, those responsible for dealing with the painful issues of sexual abuse around the world, and individuals who have been deeply affected by the crisis.
From the very beginning of his Pontificate in March, Pope Francis has clearly followed the line of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, in addressing head-on the sexual abuse crisis, dealing with victims, offering healing to them, and facilitating the work of the Vatican’s response to the crisis through the special office in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Pope Francis was fully aware of Pope Benedict’s high priority in addressing the crisis, and he has made it his own priority as well.
As the Pope and the whole Church continue to respond to the sexual abuse crisis, heal victims, deal with perpetrators, establish proactive measures and healthy environments that protect and safeguard minors and all vulnerable people, it is necessary for those who report on such stories not to fall into a method of "lying in wait", simply calculating explicit references to the sexual abuse crisis or any other major issue. It is equally important to assess the massive change that has taken place both on the ground and at the highest levels of the Church in addressing the evil, criminal actions of sexual abuse that have occurred. To fall into a stance of waiting for the pope to say something, or simply providing lists and explicit references, without taking into consideration the many ways that Pope Francis, as pastor of the universal Church deals with reality, and brings about a change of mentality and behavior, does not do justice to this issue, and for that matter many other critical issues that the Church faces today.
Pope Francis is an extraordinary pastor who is deeply attentive to the lived situations of people throughout the world. The entire world has witnessed over the past nine months his concern for those who suffer in any way. High among his list of priorities are certainly those who have suffered sexual abuse in their lives. He will continue to address the issue with clarity, transparency, firmness, justice, direction and compassion."