Pope to Jesuits in Ireland: Clericalism at Root of Church’s Abuse Scandals

The Aug. 25 meeting was closed to media, but the Pope’s remarks were published by the Jesuit-run journal La Civiltà Cattolica Sept. 13.

Pope Francis meets with Jesuits in Dublin Aug. 25.
Pope Francis meets with Jesuits in Dublin Aug. 25. (photo: Jesuit Brendan McManus via CNA)

DUBLIN — Pope Francis told a group of Jesuits during his visit to Dublin last month that elitism and clericalism in the Church are a cause of the abuse scandals in places such as the United States and Ireland.

“There is something I have understood with great clarity,” he said. “This drama of abuse, especially when it is widespread and gives great scandal — think of Chile, here in Ireland or in the United States — has behind it a Church that is elitist and clericalist, an inability to be near to the people of God.”

During his visit to Ireland last month, Pope Francis continued his tradition of stopping to meet with local Jesuits during a papal trip. The Aug. 25 meeting was closed to media, but the Pope’s remarks were published by the Jesuit-run journal La Civiltà Cattolica Sept. 13.

Speaking to a group of 63 Jesuits, mostly from Ireland, the Pope said, “Elitism, clericalism fosters every form of abuse.” He asked for their help in putting an end to abuse, explaining that he meant more than to “simply turn the page.”

“Seek out a cure, reparation, all that is necessary to heal the wounds and give life back to so many people,” he said.

Francis went on to say that he believes “sexual abuse is not the first [abuse],” but that “the first abuse is of power and conscience. I ask you to help with this. Courage! Be courageous!”

Asked about concrete actions they could take against abuse, he said, “We have to denounce the cases we know about,” and he reiterated that “sexual abuse is the consequence of abuse of power and of conscience.”

Equating authoritarianism and clericalism, he asked, “Who among us does not know an authoritarian bishop? Forever in the Church there have been authoritarian bishops and religious superiors.”

He emphasized that to be sent on mission “decisively and with authority” can be confused with authoritarianism, but they are two different things and need to be separated.

During the brief meeting, the Pope also referenced an encounter he had immediately beforehand with eight survivors of sexual abuse, at which he also heard about the cases of Irish mother-and-baby homes. He said these cases particularly touched his heart.

“I really was unable to believe the stories that I have seen well documented,” he said. “I heard them now in the other room and was deeply upset. This is a special mission for you: Clean this up; change consciences; do not be afraid to call things by their name.”

He also told the members of the Society of Jesus that “we need to work so that the freshness of the Gospel and its joy are understood.”

“Jesus came to bring joy, not moral casuistry — to bring openness, mercy. Jesus loved sinners. But now I am preaching … I didn’t intend to! Jesus loved sinners … he loved them! He had a strong dislike of the corrupt! The Gospel of Matthew in Chapter 23 is an example of what Jesus says to the corrupt.”

He commended a confessor who, he says, makes confession “an encounter with Jesus Christ, not a torture room or a psychiatrist’s couch.”

“We need to be the reflection of merciful Jesus,” the Pope stated.

“And what did Jesus ask of the adulteress? ‘How many times and who with?’ No! He simply said, ‘Go, and sin no more.’ The joy of the Gospel is the mercy of Jesus; indeed, the tenderness of Jesus. And Jesus liked the crowd, the simple, ordinary people. The poor are at the heart of the Gospel. The poor follow Jesus to be healed, to be fed.”

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