The Spanish bishops to the People of God: "asking for forgiveness and forgiving is the first step to heal wounds".

Maria José Atienza-November 24, 2023-Reading time: 6 minutes

The 123rd Plenary Assembly of the Spanish bishops has published a letter addressed to all the people of God on sexual abuse committed within the Church.

Under the title "Sent to welcome, heal and rebuild", the bishops reiterate their request for forgiveness to the victims and commit themselves "to be transparent in this process and accountable to the victims, the Church and God" and make reference to the implementation of a plan to integral reparation.

Full text of the letter "Sent to welcome, heal and rebuild".

You are the light of the world (Mt 5:14).. To the people of God and to Spanish society, in the face of the drama of abuse, we, the bishops of the Plenary Assembly, aware that we have been sent to welcome and heal the victims of this social scourge, humbly offer the following considerations.

1. Grief, shame and request for forgiveness.

The abuse of minors has filled us with sadness. As on other occasions, we want to express unequivocally the pain, shame and sorrow that this reality, which betrays the message of the Gospel, causes in us. In no way do we intend to look for excuses or justifications to avoid any responsibility that may correspond to us as a Church.

At the same time, we reiterate our most sincere request for forgiveness to all those who have suffered because of these execrable actions, especially to the victims and their families. We also ask God's forgiveness, in which, as Christians, we have not been faithful. The suffering has been caused not only by the abuses but also by the way in which, at times, they have been dealt with. There are not enough words to express how sorry we are for the pain of the victims, as well as for the betrayal committed by some members of our communities. These acts, which are not only sins but also crimes, are incompatible with the fundamental values of our faith in Christ, for they contradict the love, compassion and respect that He teaches us and gives us the strength to live. They are also a call to a profound personal and communal conversion.

Above all other considerations, we commit ourselves to be transparent in this process and to be accountable to the victims, to the Church and to God. Our brothers, priests, religious and lay people, betraying the trust they had received and the mission entrusted to them, were abusing those persons, minors or vulnerable, who had been entrusted to them for their protection, education or care.

2. The action of the Church: attention to victims.

Many of us have met the victims of these abuses. We have known their face, their story, their name. We want to take on their pain incarnate. We have asked for their forgiveness, we do so now and we will always do so. To ask for forgiveness is to recognize our limitations, our poverty, our weakness, our lack of courage. We know that the damage and pain caused are indelible, but to ask for forgiveness and to forgive is the first step to heal the wounds.

First and foremost, we can assure you that we continue the commitment to take concrete and effective measures to prevent future abuse in our Church that we began in 2001. We are constantly, and for some time now, reviewing all of our security and training protocols, as well as working closely with civil authorities to ensure that those responsible for these crimes are brought to justice.

- Welcoming and reparation. - In relation to the victims, for their reception and accompaniment, offices for the protection of minors have been created in all dioceses and religious institutions and studies have been carried out in order to know the dimension of the problem. We encourage anyone who has suffered abuse to approach these offices to initiate processes of reparation and healing. We are fully prepared to listen, support, repair and offer the help they need to heal the wounds. Every child protection office is open to listen and welcome that pain.

Prevention and training. - With the encouragement of Pope Francis, necessary steps have been taken in three directions. In this Episcopal Conference, the Advisory Service to the Diocesan Offices, now fully operational, has held numerous formation meetings to establish a joint work that makes possible an effective accompaniment of the victims. In relation to the rest of the People of God, the Episcopal Conference, the dioceses and the congregations have prepared and promulgated protocols to prevent and detect abuse, and have begun training processes for all those in the Church who work with minors, so that they can help prevent this social scourge. In the juridical sphere, both the motu proprio Vos estis lux mundi as the Vademecum on procedural issues in the face of sexual abuse, promulgated by the Holy See, have been accompanied in Spain by the Instruction on sexual abuseapproved by this Episcopal Conference last April.

- Complaint and action. - The rapid assessment of abuses, which is essential for prompt action, must lead immediately to denunciation in the canonical, civil and criminal spheres. This is the beginning of the judicial action that is essential on the road to reparation.

It is necessary to emphasize that, in the legal context, the determination of whether an act constitutes a crime of abuse and who is responsible for such criminal act corresponds to the judicial authority, as well as the legal measures that may be taken as a consequence.

Nevertheless, conscience, which "is man's most secret core and tabernacle, where he sits alone with God" (GS 16), calls us to recognize those intrinsically evil acts that violate God's law, even if they cannot be appreciated by human justice, and leads us to the urgency of making reparation for them.

3. It is a problem of the Church and of society.

Likewise, we are well aware of the impact that these actions have on the public's perception of the Church. The bishops of Spain consider that cases of abuse are very serious matters that must be dealt with within the legal framework. Unfortunately, they affect all sectors of society. The vast majority of abusers are family members or people close to the victim.

However, in this very important issue, to focus only on the Church is to defocus the problem. The recommendations and measures to be taken should not only be addressed to us, but to society as a whole.

We believe that the way to heal this scourge in the Church and in society is for us to work together to build just, safe and compassionate environments where every person is loved, valued and respected.

Now, gathered in plenary assembly, we bishops have given special value to the testimony gathered from the victims, which allows us to place them at the center.

During this year, four reports on sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable persons in the Church have been published by different entities and media. The Spanish Episcopal Conference, based on the work carried out by the Offices for the Protection of Minors, prepared its own report, "To Give Light", with 728 testimonies collected from the 1940s to the present. But we insist that what is important are the people and not the numbers.

4. Not just words: the comprehensive reparation plan.

We are aware that words are not enough. Our action continues. In this same Plenary Assembly we have worked on the first draft of the plan of integral reparation for the victims of abuse, which has three lines of action that we are already developing and that we are going to promote with all our might:

- attention to the victims through all legal and ecclesiastical channels,

- full reparation, to the extent possible, for the damage caused

- and training for the prevention of such abuses in the future.

We have decided to continue working on this plan, approve its itinerary after the necessary revisions and ratify it at the next Plenary Assembly.

5. The valuable service of the People of God.

Lay people, missionaries, consecrated persons, deacons, priests and bishops, beyond our limitations and frailties, we give ourselves every day, helping, accompanying, consoling and fulfilling a very difficult mission that is not always recognized in our times.

It is not just to attribute to all the evil caused by some. We are aware that this path of reparation is indispensable and, at the same time, we believe that it can also help to heal the wound inflicted on the People of God. We must also remember all those among us who make us proud of our faith: priests who bring Jesus into every heart; consecrated men and women who dedicate themselves to education and assistance; consecrated women who care for the poorest and most needy with their whole life; missionaries in every country of the world making the Gospel visible; lay people who give themselves as catechists or volunteers; monks and nuns who support us with their prayer and all those who live their Christian life in the midst of ordinary concerns.

6. Hopeful.

Our commitment to eradicate sexual abuse is also a service to the society in which we live. We humbly offer our sad and painful experience to help any other institution to fight against this scourge.

We want to look to the future with hope. Once again, we reiterate that our struggle against all kinds of abuses must continue unceasingly. And, at the same time, we wish to show our deep gratitude and appreciation to the priests and consecrated persons of our Church, encouraging them to live with enthusiasm and hope the treasure of the ministry entrusted to them (cf. 2 Cor 4:7). We take this opportunity to appeal to the Catholic faithful to accompany, encourage and support them in their daily dedication.

Together with the People of God, we turn to Christ, the foundation of all hope, who promised us that he would be with us until the end of the world (cf. Mt 28:20). May he, the Good Shepherd, help us beyond the dark glens, to walk the path of healing, reconciliation and renewal, accompanied by the motherly love of Mary.

We ask your prayers for the victims and their families, as well as for all members of our Church.

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