Pope Francis Turns to the Curé of Ars


National Catholic Register, 8 August 2019

The Holy Father’s letter to priests is explicitly about the abuse crisis, but it also serves as an epilogue to the Year for Priests convoked by Benedict XVI.

The surprise Aug. 4 “Letter to Priests” from Pope Francis proposed again the figure of the patron saint of parish priests, St. Jean-Marie Vianney, amid the crisis of sexual abuse in the priesthood.

Writing on the 160th anniversary of the death of the holy Curé of Ars, the Holy Father desired to offer — as an “elder brother and father” — a spiritual and fraternal support to all the innocent priests for whom the abuse crisis has been a time of betrayal, suspicion and pain. The letter finds its immediate context in the follow-up to the Vatican summit on sexual abuse in February 2019.

In the months afterward, important legal measures were taken to address mandatory reporting and how bishops in particular were to be held to account for improperly handling allegations that are reported. Pope Francis’ letter wisely acknowledges that canonical measures alone are not enough. The letter is an expression of the Holy Father’s repeated insistence that the crisis calls for a conversion of heart and culture.

In that light, the papal letter speaks to priests in a heartfelt manner, beginning with acknowledging the pain felt in the priesthood due to the scandals. That pain of innocent priests is threefold — pain felt for the victims who are numbered in their congregations, the pain of betrayal by fellow priests, and the pain of the cloud of suspicion that hangs over all priests.

The letter goes on to offer priests an extended word of gratitude for their faithful service and encouragement in the face of the temptation to become weary and resigned. Finally, it invites priests to praise God anew after the model and with the intercession of the Blessed Mother.

There is, though, a broader context for the papal letter, which links St. Jean Vianney to the abuse crisis. This letter can be read as a sort of epilogue to the Year for Priests convoked by Benedict XVI in 2009-2010 to mark the 150th anniversary of the Curé of Ars’ death.

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