ROME (CNS) — Victims of violence need consolation, healing and justice, the Ukrainian Catholic Church said in a pastoral letter on safeguarding.
Reaffirming a commitment to preventing and fighting “any manifestation of violence in our church structures,” the bishops urged anyone who may have experienced or witnessed abuse in any forms or its cover-up, to not be silent.
“We want to state, loudly and clearly: No one has the right to silence or justify wrongdoing, pain, sin and crime. Victims must be heard, especially by the church,” said the letter of the Byzantine church’s synod of bishops.
In a pastoral letter to clergy, monastics and laity, the bishops of the Ukrainian Catholic Church announced they would be strengthening measures regarding the safeguarding of minors and vulnerable people from various forms of violence.
The letter, signed in the name of the synod by Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, major archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, was published Oct. 24 on its site news.ugcc.ua/en.
The letter noted the recent steps the Ukrainian Catholic Church has taken in regard to formulating basic provisions for victims who were abused as minors by clergy, as well as Pope Francis’ latest mandate requiring all eparchies and dioceses to implement an internal system for reporting sexual abuse by May 2020 and requiring all bishops to investigate every allegation.
But the letter also said the church wanted to “progress to the next stage of understanding, healing and preventing all forms of violence against human dignity in the church environment and in the community at large, ‘working not for the sake of appearances, to please men, but as Christ’s servants, who fulfil the will of God from the heart.'”
First, it urged victims to come forward, underlining how Christ and his disciple are always on the side of victims. “We are ready to listen to everyone, and above all to those whose pain remains unspoken and whose concealed wounds have festered for years or decades, causing multigenerational traumas.”
On behalf of the whole church, the bishops also asked for forgiveness from everyone who “has suffered sexual, physical, psychological, emotional, financial or other forms of violence or abuse in our parishes, dioceses, monasteries, schools, seminaries or other church structures.”
They apologized to those who have been “confronted with indifference and insensitivity to these evil deeds by silencing or covering them up,” to those who have been “offended or disappointed by the unworthy behavior of church representatives,” to those whose reputation has been “tainted by someone else’s abuse.”
“If we — bishops, priests, religious superiors, other church officials and lay leaders — have failed to fulfil our pastoral duties properly and have offended” or allowed to be offended “one of our sisters or brothers, we ask forgiveness for this.”
The letter said the bishops would seek to create the right conditions for reconciliation through “spiritual-pastoral and psychological care” for victims as well as by upholding the principles of truth and justice.
“The clergy and other members of the church are not exempt from the rule of law, and crime remains a crime regardless of who committed it,” the letter said, adding that in each country “where we are present, we are committed to developing programs for the protection of vulnerable persons, in cooperation with relevant authorities and organizations.”
The letter also addressed potential perpetrators, asking “those who are still only tempted and are standing at the threshold of sin and crime” to repent. “It is never too late to turn in repentance to the crucified Christ and to ask for God’s grace to overcome evil temptation.”
The pastoral letter said all safeguarding requires a thorough understanding of the root causes of abuse.
“We believe that Eastern Christian anthropology, derived from Sacred Scripture and built upon the heritage of the church fathers, holds the keys to a holistic understanding of the problem of violence,” it said.
However, they said, a more detailed theological analysis is still needed, including a systematic development of “the theology of the body and sexuality, as well as the theology of authority, obedience and governance in the church and society.”
“We especially caution against the temptation of clericalism — the use of the church and its spiritual authority by the clergy for personal purposes — instead of serving God and his people.”
Clericalism, they said, creates “an artificial division between members of the church, underestimates the role of the laity, distorts the notion of obedience and humility in monasticism and priesthood, and presents the church as an institution made up exclusively of bishops and priests.”
“Let us make our parishes, monasteries and seminaries places of shared responsibility and brotherhood, where bishops, priests, monastics, and laypeople all grow together in faith, love, mercy and service to one another,” the letter said. “Let us follow the model of Jesus Christ, who ‘did not come to be served but to serve and give his life for the redemption for many.'”
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