Pope’s letter a start in atonement

Pope Francis took the proper attitude in his letter to the Roman Catholic Church responding to a grand jury investigation of sexual abuse by priests in Pennsylvania. Given the circumstances it was the only attitude he could take. Released Monday, the letter admitted that too many in the Church “showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them.”

Since it was released last week, the grand jurors’ report has made headlines worldwide. It has been the topic of conversation everywhere, including in churches of all denominations.

For decades, more than 300 “predator priests” in the Keystone State were accused credibly of abusing more than 1,000 children, the grand jurors found. Frequently, church superiors — and even law enforcement authorities — shielded the evildoers, putting protection of the institution ahead of the protection of the innocent victims.

It was not the first evidence of widespread abuses and coverups within the Roman Catholic church.

It is sad and disturbing in the extreme to recognize that no locale is immune to sexual abuse of children by those in positions of authority, whether they be civil or religious. No one can say with conviction that, “It didn’t happen here.”

Pope Francis was right, then, to emphasize two points in his letter. “Looking back to the past, no effort to beg pardon and seek to repair the harm done will ever be sufficient,” he wrote.

But, he added, repentance must be accompanied by reform. “Looking ahead to the future, no effort must be spared to create a culture able to prevent such situations from happening, but also to prevent the possibility of their being covered up and perpetuated.”

Precisely. But the pope didn’t spell out what measures he would take against bishops who have let such actions slide under the rug. We hope that will become evident in the future.

Words of repentance only go so far in a situation like this. Real atonement calls for strong action to correct the mistakes of the past.