Pope Francis has weighed in on how bishops in the Catholic Church might hope to avoid further scandal related to their illegal and unethical behavior.
According to the pope’s homily at Mass on Tuesday morning, the “Great Accuser” is attacking bishops in the church, and those in the church should pray, because that is their strength against the accuser.
Vatican News translated and published the pope’s remarks, including the “three attitudes to face the scandal whipped up by the ‘Great Accuser.’”
“In these times, it seems like the ‘Great Accuser’ has been unchained and is attacking bishops.
“True, we are all sinners, we bishops. He tries to uncover the sins, so they are visible in order to scandalize the people. The ‘Great Accuser,’ as he himself says to God in the first chapter of the Book of Job, ‘roams the earth looking for someone to accuse.’”
Francis was apparently conflating Job 1:7, in which Satan is described as roaming the earth, with Revelation 12:10, where he is described as the “accuser of the brothers”:
“The Lord said to Satan, ‘From where have you come?’ Satan answered the Lord and said, ‘From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.'” (Job 1:7)
“And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, ‘Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.'” (Revelation 12:10)
While he didn’t directly name which problems the bishops have been facing, the obvious context would be the relentless stream of sexual abuse scandals and guilty verdicts that have plagued the church in the last months and even years.
Not only have priests and bishops been found guilty of abuse of numerous children, but also priests have been found having inappropriate relationships with others. Others high up in the church have drawn fire for threatening the victims of alleged misconduct or in other ways trying to cover them up.
As well as blaming the devil for the church’s problems, the pope offered a way for bishops to avoid such problems in the future.
“A bishop’s strength against the ‘Great Accuser’ is prayer, that of Jesus and his own, and the humility of being chosen and remaining close to the people of God, without seeking an aristocratic life that removes this unction,” he said. “Let us pray, today, for our bishops: for me, for those who are here, and for all the bishops throughout the world.”
Earlier in his message, the pope had admonished the clergy to be humble, addressing those who seek advancement directly:
“The bishop who loves Jesus is not trying to climb a ladder, advancing his vocation as if it were a mere task or seeking a better placement or promotion. No. A bishop feels chosen, and has the certainty of being chosen. This drives him to speak with the Lord: ‘You chose me, of little importance, a sinner.’ He is humble, because he feels chosen and feels Jesus’ gaze upon his whole being. This gives him strength.”
The pope’s admonition amounted to a tacit admission that his bishops haven’t seemed to feel Jesus’s gaze firmly enough in recent years, given the dismaying number of accusations of abuse of underage parishioners.
For example, an investigation found that roughly 7 percent of all priests in Australia were accused of abuse between 1950 and 2015, CNN reported.
Reports of abuse began in the United States in 1985 when a Louisiana priest’s sex abuse scandal came to light and gained national attention after he admitted to abusing 37 boys. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison, but released after 10 years. He was also defrocked, but was re-arrested in Texas shortly thereafter for fondling a 3-year-old boy, according to The New York Times
Since then, Austria, Ireland Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland and Brazil, and the Dominican Republic, among others, have all been rocked with sex scandals involving Catholic clergy members.
Because of what is seen as a systemic problem, many expected the pope’s message to focus on the actions of the offending clergy being objectionable to the church. However, Tuesday’s message left some of his listeners questioning whether the Vatican was more concerned with obtaining justice for victims or mercy for perpetrators.
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