Pope says church’s credibility has been ‘seriously undercut’ by abuse scandal

A lone protester stands outside the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops meeting in Baltimore on Nov. 13 2018. RNS

A lone protester stands outside the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops meeting in Baltimore on Nov. 13 2018. RNS

Francis also said the bishops' disunity and finger-pointing has led to mistrust and pain among the church's followers.

"In recent years, the Church in the United States has been shaken by various scandals that have gravely affected its credibility", the Pope wrote in the January 1 letter received by the bishops as they gathered for a spiritual retreat at Mundelein Seminary in northern IL this week.

"Amid the upset and confusion experienced by our communities, our primary duty is to foster a shared spirit of discernment, rather than to seek the relative calm resulting from compromise or from a democratic vote where some emerge as "winners" and others not. No!"

He said he was so concerned by the situation that he had hoped to attend the U.S. retreat in person, but added that he had been unable to do so "for logistical reasons".

Capuchin Friar Father Raniero Cantalamessa, O.F.M. Cap. of the papal household is directing the retreat under the theme of "He appointed Twelve, to be with Him and to Send Out to Preach" based on the Gospel of Mark.

Encouraging the bishops to continue taking steps "to combat the "culture of abuse" and to deal with the crisis of credibility", he warned that credibility "cannot be regained by issuing stern decrees or by simply creating new committees or improving flow charts, as if we were in charge of a department of human resources".

Francis' letter comes in the wake of a devastating year for American Catholics.

The Pope's comments on child abuse have grown stronger over time.

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The news outlet also found that almost 20 local, state or federal investigations - both criminal and civil - have been launched since the release of the grand jury findings.

Ahead of that meeting, United States bishops gathered on Wednesday near Chicago for seven days of prayer and spiritual reflection.

The Pope did not mention in his letter that it was his rehabilitation of now ex-Cardinal McCarrick that contributed in no small part to the current American crisis. He encourages the bishops to root their response to the abuse crisis in Scripture, and makes clear that their actions thus far have been problematic.

However, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, asked the bishops to delay their votes, citing the short amount of time the Vatican had to review the proposals, possible conflicts in them with church law and in view of the meeting Pope Francis has called for February with the presidents of all the world's bishops' conferences to discuss child protection and the abuse crisis.

That approach, according to the Pope, risks "reducing everything to an organization problem".

But the church's loss of credibility has also "raised painful questions about the way we relate to one another", he said. "Clearly, a living fabric has come undone, and we, like weavers, are called to fix it", the Pope writes to the USA bishops.

"This requires not only a new approach to management, but also a change in our mindset".

Any approach to the abuse crisis that does not blend spiritual insights with pragmatic steps will be "doomed from the start", Francis said.

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