Fr Lombardi’s “Reformation Day” message

Lutheran readers of this blog will be aware that we have not only celebrated All Saints Day this week, but also “Reformation Day”, the anniversary of the nailing of the 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Church. Somewhat ironically then (although the irony would have been missed on most Catholics) a small group gathered in Rome on Sunday observed a new “Reformation Day” to draw attention to the scandal of child abuse in the Church (as if we needed reminding!). Gathered at Castel Sant’Angelo, a short walk from the Vatican, a victims group called “Survivors Voice” (led by two Boston-area abuse victims from the United States, Gary Bergeron and Bernie McDaid) held a vigil last Sunday to call the Church to greater action in this area.

Fr Fredrico Lombardi, the Vatican Press spokesman, met the group and read to them a personal message (not an official statement from the Pope) urging the group to see the Church as an ally in the fight against child abuse, rather than an opponent. Here is his letter (courtesy of John L. Allen Jnr):

VATICAN LETTER TO SEXUAL ABUSE VICTIMS

On the occasion of “Reformation Day”, organised by “Survivor’s Voice”
By Fr. Lombardi

The windows of my office at Vatican Radio are just a few metres away, and therefore it seems fitting to me to listen, and to make a tangible sign of our attention, to your meeting.

This intervention of mine is not an official one, but because of my deep insertion and identification with the Catholic Church and the Holy See, I believe I can express the feelings shared by many regarding the object of your manifestation.

In this, I feel encouraged by the attitude of the Pope, made manifest many times, that is, to listen to the victims, and show the will to do everything necessary, so that the horrible crimes of sexual abuse may never happen again.

I must say that, even though I do not share all of your declarations and positions, I find in many of these the elements on which one can develop a pledge, that will bring solidarity and consensus between us.

It is true that the Church must be very attentive so that the children and the young, who are entrusted to her educational activities, may grow in a completely secure environment.

Yesterday morning, a hundred thousand young people were present in these places for a great celebration of their faith and of their youthfulness, and they are but a small part of the youths who take part with trust and enthusiasm in the life of the Church community. We must absolutely ensure that their growth be healthy and serene, finding all the protection which is rightfully theirs. We all have a great responsibility with regards to the future of the youth of the world.

It is true that the procedures of investigation and of intervention must be ever swifter and more effective, whether from the Church or from the civil authorities, and that there must be a good collaboration between these two, in conformity to the laws and situations of the countries concerned.

I know, you think that the Church should do more, and in a quicker way. From my point of view – even though one may and should always do more – I am convinced that the Church has done, and is doing a lot. Not only the Pope, with his words and example, but many Church communities in various parts of the world have done and are doing a lot, by way of listening to the victims as well as in the matter of prevention and formation.

Personally, I am in contact with many persons who work in this field in many countries, and I am convinced that they are doing a lot. Of course, we must continue to do more. And your cry today is an encouragement to do more. But a large part of the Church is already on the good path. The major part of the crimes belongs to times bygone. Today’s reality and that of tomorrow are more beckoning. Let us help one another to journey together in the right direction.

But the more important thing that I wanted to say to you is the following, and I feel encouraged to say it, because it seems to me that you also are aware of it.

The scourge of sexual abuses, especially against minors, but also in a general way, is one of the great scourges of today’s world. It involves and touches the Catholic Church, but we know very well that what has happened in the Church is but a small part of what has happened, and continues to happen in the world at large. The Church must first free herself of this evil, and give a good example in the fight against the abuses within her midst, but afterwards, we must all fight against this scourge, knowing that it is an immense one in today’s world, a scourge which increases the more easily when it remains hidden; and many are indeed very happy that all the attention is focussed on the Church, and not on them, for this allows them to carry on undisturbed.

This fight must be fought by us together, uniting our forces against the spread of this scourge, which uses new means and ways to reach out today, helped in this by internet and the new forms of communication, by the crisis hitting families, by sexual tourism and traffic which exploit the poverty of the people in various continents.

What the Church has learnt in these years – prompted also by you and by other groups – and the initiatives that she can take to purify herself and be a model of security for the young, must be of use to all. For this, I invite you to look at the Church ever more as a possible ally, or – according to me – as an ally already active today in the pursuit of the most noble goals of your endeavours.

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36 responses to “Fr Lombardi’s “Reformation Day” message

  1. Peregrinus

    “Somewhat ironically then (although the irony would have been missed on most Catholics) a small group gathered in Rome on Sunday observed a new “Reformation Day” to draw attention to the scandal of child abuse in the Church (as if we needed reminding!).”

    I don’t think it was ironic at all; it was a deliberate evocation of the events which “Reformation Day” recalls.

    Bear in mind that:

    (1) Luther was initially motivated by real and serious abuses that were widespread in the church, up to the highest level.

    (2) The Lutheran Reformation was not the only response to these abuses. The Council of Trent, and the whole Counter-Reformation, was similarly a response to them.

    It’s one of the great “what-ifs” of history to speculate about how events might have unfolded if there had been an effective orthodox response to abuses before Luther’s reformation. Would it have forestalled, or greatly weakened the impact of, Luther’s actions? And would that orthodox response have been very different from the Counter-Reformation that we in fact had, given that it would not have been shaped by reaction to Luther?

    I think that Reformation Day was chosen for this event to point out that a similar situation may face the church today. The sexual abuse crisis is a real and serious abuse within the church – not just in terms of the abusive acts themselves, but also in terms of the church’s past response to it, which points to a crisis of authority, a crisis of accountability and, I suggest, a crisis of clericalism. To a large extent the immediate issue of child abuse for the future has been addressed through proper standards, protocols and procedures – though of course continued vigilance is needed – but it remains to be seen how (and, God help us, perhaps even whether) the church will address the broader issues.

    It’s unrealistic to think that it will be “as you were” in the Catholic church, but with better child protection procedures in place and, basically, no attention paid to the wider lessons. Large numbers of Catholics have been profoundly shaken and disillusioned by this episode, and their disillusion will be intensified if they perceive that that is the outcome the (institutional) church is aiming for. That disillusion must have consequences.

    We don’t have to repeat the mistakes of the sixteenth century. But we very easily can.

    • PM

      As usual, Peregrinus’ points are very well made.

      One important difference is that this time we have a very holy Pope who is a stellar theologian – not, as in 1517, a renaissance princeling whose main interest was hunting and who had never had a serious theological thought in his life. If we had had a Pius V in 1517, things might indeed have turned out differently. The Lord indeed works in mysterious ways….

      If anyone has a sick-bag handy, see the article in today’s Australian by that oleaginous little creep* Geoffrey Robertson praising the pornification of society in the swinging 60s.

      * I know I shouldn’t use language like this, but it is Geoffrey Robertson.

      • I don’t think it is a problem of theology though, PM.

        It is a problem of power and perception and Benedict is knee-deep in it.

        His own reaction to allegations during his time in Munich illustrate the point.

        It was clear that Ratzinger was in charge at the time when Father Peter Hullermann was put in ‘harms way’ again after being withdrawn from Essen.

        It seems to me that a Pope who really understood the gravity of this issue would respond personally with, at the very least, an acknowlegement that he could have done better. Instead he let is deputy at the time, Gerhard Gruber, take the ‘fall’.

        This comes across as a momentous lack of courage to me because a deputy can not assume the responsibility of his boss. It was also a critical loss of opportunity to say to the world that ‘I made mistakes too’.

        Benedict went on to give the Irish bishops a good telling off for their personal responsibility in the abuse epidemic there.

        Beyond that too, there’s plenty of credible evidence that in his time in Rome before becoming Pontif, he could have done better (to put it charitably) as the crisis unfolded.

        Again, these are not theological problems.

        Finally, I wonder, assuming it could be objectively measured, who would be generally perceived as having more moral credibility, Benedict or Robertson?

        • Peregrinus

          1. It’s not just about the pope.

          2. In fact, it’s not even mainly about the pope.

          3. It’s about bishops, and the people they listen to. The most important thing a pope can do is appoint the right bishops, and support them.

          4. Nor is it about identifying bishops (or popes) who always understood the challenge facing the church, and responded properly to it. Rather it’s about bishops (and popes) who are open to learning, and capable of learning.

          • Tony

            1. It’s not just about the pope.

            Agreed.

            2. In fact, it’s not even mainly about the pope.

            I dunno about that. In a sense everything to do with the Church is about the Pope at some level, but especially an issue that has effected so many countries.

            3. It’s about bishops, and the people they listen to. The most important thing a pope can do is appoint the right bishops, and support them.

            Probably.

            4. Nor is it about identifying bishops (or popes) who always understood the challenge facing the church, and responded properly to it. Rather it’s about bishops (and popes) who are open to learning, and capable of learning.

            While agreeing, I’d put it more strongly in this context. I think we all have to be more open to being challenged about how ‘we’ve always done things’ has contributed to this problem. Time and time again, abuse has as its foundation ordinary Catholics who thought that ‘Father could do no wrong’ and this was so strong that many just couldn’t believe it.

            • Peregrinus

              “I think we all have to be more open to being challenged about how ‘we’ve always done things’ has contributed to this problem. Time and time again, abuse has as its foundation ordinary Catholics who thought that ‘Father could do no wrong’ and this was so strong that many just couldn’t believe it.”

              I completely agree. You can’t have an unhealth clericalism in the church without a large section of the laity will to accord the clergy an inappropriate degree of deference, respect, etc, or simply willing to treat large areas of church life as the business of clerics and, therefore, not their own business. The blame for clericalism does not lie exclusively with clerics.

              I focus on bishops, though, because it seems to me that it is largely bishops whose actions and attitudes will do most to determine whether those who learn from the abuse scandal bring what they learn to bear within the church, or outside it.

  2. an effective orthodox response to abuses before Luther’s reformation. Would it have forestalled, or greatly weakened the impact of, Luther’s actions?

    Ah, this is the great “what if” of history, isn’t it? If only Adrian VI had lived a little longer, or if Reg Pol had been elected Pope instead of Johnny Caraffa…

    • Gareth

      Be careful also about taking the line about ‘abuses’ in the Catholic Church in the sixteenth century.

      Much of our modern knowledge about these so-called occurences are based on propaganda and legend.

      Such is the case often with revolutions and upheavals, the truth is often not what we read.

      • But there were real and acknowledged “abuses”, the evidence of the Church’s own documents and statements shows that.

        • Gareth

          Yes I do not deny that, but my point was that some things were not to the extent that was and is still widely believed.

          And to state the bleating obvious, no ‘abuse’ in the world justifies the breaking of the body of Christ.

          A wise person once told me, Catholics should recall the ‘Reformation’, the ‘Devilomation’

  3. Gareth

    A major problem with certain groups that make a song and dance about sexual abuse (The ‘We are the Church’ movement in the U.S is a classic example) is that they do not stop with their criticism of how the hierachy handled the situation, but take the next step and argue that the Church should also change its teachings on important magesterial matters such as the nature of the priesthood and moral teachings etc, etc.

    One wonders if their sole motivation is to solely make a message about the crisis of sexual abuse in the Church…

    Such groups are dangerous.

    Being faithful to magesterial teaching rather than dissenting from it will have a much more positive impact for the Church.

  4. Robert

    I agree 100% with Peregrinus’s comments. And there is another factor in addition to the ones that he mentions: just as the printing-press was an absolutely indispensable requirement in spreading Lutheranism (historians of all religions agree on this, and Luther himself acknowledged it), so the Internet has been an absolutely indispensable requirement in spreading public outrage about the clerical sex abuse scandals.

    Far too many bishops – not least in Australia – imagine that it’s still 1990, that dirty laundry can be permanently concealed, and that the old reluctance to interfere outside one’s own diocese is still considered morally acceptable. Well, perhaps the sole good result of the sex abuse horrors is that this last myth has been killed forever.

    The Pope, however full of good will and intelligence, can ultimately do nothing if bishops are determined to drag their feet.

    • Gareth

      Robert: so the Internet has been an absolutely indispensable requirement in spreading

      Gareth: Another interesting point here is often young Catholics in western countries are primarily educated in moral, devotional and liturgical matters from what they read off the Net.

      I know the vast majority of what I have learnt of the Catholic faith has not been based on what I have experienced at parish level or from priests I have met (one or two being the rare exception) or what I learnt at school, but rather what is presented on the Internet.

      I wonder how many other young Catholics could be put their hand up to this. I highly suspect a lot.

      • Tony

        I know the vast majority of what I have learnt of the Catholic faith has not been based on what I have experienced at parish level or from priests I have met (one or two being the rare exception) or what I learnt at school, but rather what is presented on the Internet.

        [Comment self censored]

        • Gareth

          Typical (self-censored) comment

          I forgot to mention that along with the hordes of Catholic apologetics on the Net, the odd a-catholic that hang around magesterial websites like (self-censored) is enough to point inquiring Catholics in the right direction.

          One can be assured if you don’t see eye to eye with the acatholics, you can guarantee that you are holding to the right belief.

      • Robert

        Not only young Catholics, I suspect, Gareth, but middle-aged converts to Catholicism (myself included).

        Before undergoing Catholic baptism I had the very good fortune of long-term instruction from two good and holy priests – which meant I was instructed to a far higher level than that of the average RCIA inmate – but even so, a good deal of whatever subsequent knowledge I acquired of Catholic teaching came from the fact that resources like the 1911 Catholic Encyclopaedia are now readily available online, whereas most libraries no longer stock the hard-copy versions.

        Of course you would never glean this truth from the average 21st-century Australian episcopal statement, which is based on the premise that all Catholics are morons whose intelligence can be insulted indefinitely, and who share the typical bishop’s belief that the Church only began in 1962.

        • Gareth

          I forgot to mention that along with the Internet I also learnt much from my (late) grandparents old Catholic books.

          I found these more informative than a whole RCIA program.

        • Tony

          … and who share the typical bishop’s belief that the Church only began in 1962.

          Crikey Robert, you certainly seemed to have missed the RCIA class on humility!

  5. Christine

    the printing-press was an absolutely indispensable requirement in spreading Lutheranism (historians of all religions agree on this, and Luther himself acknowledged it),

    Spot on!

    I know the vast majority of what I have learnt of the Catholic faith has not been based on what I have experienced at parish level or from priests I have met (one or two being the rare exception) or what I learnt at school, but rather what is presented on the Internet.

    Ouch!!

    I guess I was somewhat blessed in having one Catholic parent before I converted. Of course, my Catholic dad was a product of the preconciliar period and he died shortly after the Second Vatican Council ended so what Catholic exposure I received was in that context. When he took me to his parish church the beauty of the building, the smell of incense, the strong sense of the numinous is something I will never forget. The seeds were sown way back then. Yet, the dedication and warmth of the good people who guided me through the RCIA process years later were a very important part of my conversion as well. The local parish is still the place, IMHO, where Catholic formation should take place, although I recognize that some parishes do a better job than others and that must be addressed.

    Under our current bishop parishes have been instructed to hold sessions inviting parishioners to attend and learn — or re-learn — the essentials of what it means to be Catholic in terms of history, dogma, doctrine, etc.

    • It’s good to hear a postive word spoken about the ‘local church’ and the RCIA, Christine.

      And yet it seems to me that you (and others) are not talking about the church, you’re talking about part of the church. That part is expressed in different ways but is perhaps captured in the phrase ‘preconciliar period’.

      And if ‘the beauty of the building, the smell of incense, the strong sense of the numinous’ are aspects of that part of the church that you particularly respond to, that’s fine.

      Others respond to aspects of the church that are very much ‘postconciliar’.

      To me, Jesus’ ministry, as depicted in the Gospels, was not about buildings and incense but about his relationships with his people. I think the postconciliar church has tried to get back to that.

      • Dear Tony,

        Keep in mind our friend Christine’s spiritual journey. I rather think that her experience of the Church has been possibly a little broarder than yours even. She has seen the Church in Europe, Australia and the US. She has seen the pre-conciliar and post-conciliar Church. She has been a fully dedicated member of both Protestant and Catholic Churches. That gives her quite a breadth of scope, I would think, and hardly just an experience of “part of the Church”.

        • Tony

          I’m not sure what you’re point is, David.

          I certainly was unaware of the nature of Christines experience, as she is unaware of mine.

          Her experience may indeed have been ‘broader’, but it’s not my experience was all I was saying. I meant no disrespect.

          Surely all of us experience only part of the church?

  6. Christine

    To me, Jesus’ ministry, as depicted in the Gospels, was not about buildings and incense but about his relationships with his people. I think the postconciliar church has tried to get back to that.

    By using the term “preconciliar” I am not trying to make a value judgment, I am simply stating a historical fact. The Mass my father attended was in Latin, he received Holy Communion at the altar rail, on the tongue, there were no female altar servers and there was still very much an emphasis on the supernatural aspects of the faith. It seems to me that some of the greatest saints of the Church were nurtured on that spirituality and gave wonderful examples of love of God expressed by loving others.

    We also grew up in a European culture that breathed in its Catholicism as naturally as eating and drinking. The beautiful roadside shrines and crucifixes, the pillars in the town square upon which rested sculptures of the Virgin, the Saints or the local Bishop made a deep impression on me as a little girl (as did the kind Sisters who taught me at the Catholic kindergarten I attended). God seemed to be everywhere (a very “Catholic” idea, I think).

    I am glad that things are moving back to the center. I stood back and observed some of the liturgical and ecclesiastical madness in the immediate aftermath of the Council and surmised that it would be a while before I made my move to Rome.

    On the other hand, my husband tells me that one of the most meaningful Masses he ever attended was when he was a Marine serving in Viet Nam. The Mass was celebrated on the top of a Jeep by a Catholic chaplain. I try to keep that in mind as well 🙂

    • Tony

      I grew up in the pre-concilliar church too, Christine.

      There was a much more cohesive, tightly knit culture of Catholicism then, but it didn’t have that sense of religiousity you speak of about in Europe. The ties that bound us were more ‘tribal’ than religious.

      My experience of those early post-concilliar days were quite the opposite. To me it was a breath of fresh air and I saw very little evidence of the disquiet and excess that others speak of (NB I’m not saying it wasn’t there, I’m just saying I never saw it).

      • Gareth

        The issue I have with both these experiences is that they are based on ‘early post-concilliar days’.

        The problem with this is that the world and the Church and people’s experience of both is vastly, vastly different in the early 2000s.

        It is all well and good to base one’s experience of the 1950s or 1960s, but until people put themselves in Catholics shoes whom only experience of the Church have been the last ten years, they are not going to understand much.

        The 1960s and the Christian Brothers beating people over the head have long, long gone. Please make an attempt to understand just what would the issues be for Catholics in this day and age.

        • Tony

          Gareth,

          The issue I have with both these experiences is that they are based on ‘early post-concilliar days’.

          Why is it an issue?

          The problem with this is that the world and the Church and people’s experience of both is vastly, vastly different in the early 2000s.

          So? Recalling the past is not denying the present.

          It is all well and good to base one’s experience of the 1950s or 1960s, but until people put themselves in Catholics shoes whom only experience of the Church have been the last ten years, they are not going to understand much.

          So we need to put ourselves in the shoes of 10 year old Catholics? Or adults who’ve become Catholics in the last 10 years?

          I’m not saying that’s a bad thing to do, but I’m not sure why you regard it as relevant in this context.

          The 1960s and the Christian Brothers beating people over the head have long, long gone.

          That’s probably why nobody mentioned it.

          Please make an attempt to understand just what would the issues be for Catholics in this day and age.

          I can’t speak for Christine, but I am a Catholic in this day and age.

          • Gareth

            Tony: I can’t speak for Christine, but I am a Catholic in this day and age.

            Gareth: Are you sure about that? I take it your views accord with some of new breed of Catholics coming through.

            Which contributors on this board would be representative of this group. Marcel, Cardinal Pole, Joshua, myself.

            Are you honestly in tune with their views?

            Sorry, I think you will find the Church has moved on from people that are disgruntled from being giving the cane in the 1950s and overjoyed about those ‘Councils so-called reforms’.

            Catholics experiences are very, very different in 2010 and past generations need to understand this.

            • Gareth: Are you sure about that?

              Yes.

              I take it your views accord with some of new breed of Catholics coming through.

              First I base my ‘experience of the 1950s or 1960s’, now I’m ‘accord with some of new breed of Catholics’? Which is it Gareth?

              Which contributors on this board would be representative of this group. Marcel, Cardinal Pole, Joshua, myself.

              What group?

              Are you honestly in tune with their views?

              Haven’t given it any thought mostly because I don’t express my views to be ‘in tune’ with anyone else and, secondly, because I only know very little about the views of the names you mention.

              Sorry, I think you will find the Church has moved on from people that are disgruntled from being giving the cane in the 1950s …

              It’s almost disturbing that you bring that up again without any reference to the context of this discussion (save for what’s going on in your head).

              … and overjoyed about those ‘Councils so-called reforms’.

              We should be sad about VatII?

              Catholics experiences are very, very different in 2010 and past generations need to understand this.

              Past generations are dead, Gareth. If you mean older people, I’m sure that the Pope and Cardinals (who are just about all over 70) would be interested in your view.

  7. Christine

    The ties that bound us were more ‘tribal’ than religious.

    In some cases that is certainly true. “Tribalism” has been a part of Christianity since the early days when the church attracted all sorts of “hangers-on” because becoming Christian might prove to be politically or socially advantageous. It is all the more evident in the Catholic Church because of her sheer size alone, but then that’s another one of the things I appreciate about Catholicism, the Church never gives up on anyone, no matter how “weak” or “strong” their faith may be. Conversion is an ongoing and lifelong process.

    My love for the “physicality” of Catholic worship is not an end in and of itself but because it allows me to worship God with my entire being. I think you would hear similar sentiments from many converts, especially those who came from backgrounds that incorporated church buildings that resembled the New England meetinghouse. For us, beauty is another name for God.

    That in no way impedes our understanding that we are called to love God by loving our neighbor. I am proud of the tremendous charitable work that the Church engages in.

    As for the “disquiet” in the aftermath of the Council no doubt your experience in Australia was different from mine in the U.S.

    Gareth, I sympathize with what you are saying but to be Catholic is to be part of a community that has existed in space and time on the same foundation, which never changes, even if the vehicles by which the Church expresses her faith in every age do change.

    I am glad to be in the company of everyone who posts here 🙂

    • Gareth

      Christine: I am glad to be in the company of everyone who posts here.

      Gareth: Hi Christine, thanks for sharing your experience.

      One of the many ironies of my life that whilst I have never found a Sunday parish Mass that I am comfortable with and my Diocese is in shambles, I have found solace is that I have the most beautiful option daily Mass smack bang in the middle of the city and literally a stone’s throw away from my office.

      It a very reverend place, and no-matter what trials pass through my life, I always find some sort of comfort in attending there.

      I am thinking of all the billions in the world who do not have this grace. For this, I am grateful.

    • In some cases that is certainly true. “Tribalism” has been a part of Christianity since the early days when the church attracted all sorts of “hangers-on” because becoming Christian might prove to be politically or socially advantageous.

      I was thinking of a slightly different type of tribalism, Christine.

      When I was young and perhaps for a generation before that Catholic tribal culture was just about all embracing, not in the sense that you experienced (‘European culture that breathed in its Catholicism’), but coming from a time before that where sectarianism was pretty strong. Catholics developed organisations and groups that pretty much involved you from ‘the cradle to the grave’. It was a natural place to be because you identified with your community often against ‘them’ (non-Catholics).

      Priests were pretty much on a pedestal and bishops were treated as royalty.

      Now, no matter what side of the fence you come from (in church political terms) it’s not unusual to be highly critical of priests and bishops (we’ve even seen example on this blog!).

      The Nancy Pelosi type politician is an example of what might be described as the ‘liberal’ wing of the church while Michael Voris is an example of the other extreme.

      I’d suggest that neither of these would have had any place in the tribal Catholicism I grew up with. You just didn’t criticise bishops or priests (certainly not publically).

  8. Christine

    I’d suggest that neither of these would have had any place in the tribal Catholicism I grew up with. You just didn’t criticise bishops or priests (certainly not publically).

    Acknowledged, Tony. That’s the Catholic world my husband grew up in in a tight-knit ethnically Polish-American neighborhood. He attended his parish school from Kindergarten on through high school. The churches were the center of the neighborhood and the center of people’s lives back in that day. His younger sister once told me that when she was growing up she literally did not realize that not everyone was Catholic.

    It a very reverend place, and no-matter what trials pass through my life, I always find some sort of comfort in attending there.

    I’m glad you have found a spiritual home that nourishes you, Gareth.