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Pope Francis Condemns 'Clericalism' in Sex Abuse Letter, Echoing the Protestant Reformation

On Monday, Pope Francis released a letter responding to the massive sexual assault crisis involving 1,000 victims and 300 priests in the Roman Catholic Church in Pennsylvania. Francis condemned "clericalism," called the entire Catholic Church to fasting and prayer, and presented the scandal in terms of God's judgment on an unfaithful church. In doing so, he may have inadvertently opened up the debate on clericalism that inspired the Protestant Reformation.

"The heart-wrenching pain of these victims, which cries out to heaven, was long ignored, kept quiet or silenced," Francis wrote in a letter published Monday. "But their outcry was more powerful than all the measures meant to silence it, or sought even to resolve it by decisions that increased its gravity by falling into complicity.  The Lord heard that cry and once again showed us on which side he stands."

The pope quoted the Virgin Mary's song in Luke 1 — known as the "Magnificat." "For the Lord remembers the promise he made to our fathers: 'he has scattered the proud in their conceit; he has cast down the mighty from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty,'" Francis quoted from Luke 1:53-54. "We feel shame when we realize that our style of life has denied, and continues to deny, the words we recite."

The pope's decision to quote this part of the Magnificat proved quite significant, as the Catholic Church so often identifies with the Virgin Mary and looks up to her (some would say it verges on worshiping her). For the leader of the Roman Catholic Church to quote the Magnificat as a condemnation of the church's sins is quite significant, and suggests a fitting contrition following such a devastating scandal. It may also open the church up to complaints that it has lost its way.

Pope Francis also quoted Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (who would become Pope Benedict XVI days later) from Good Friday 2005. "How much filth there is in the Church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to [Christ]! How much pride, how much self-complacency! Christ's betrayal by his disciples, their unworthy reception of his body and blood, is certainly the greatest suffering endured by the Redeemer; it pierces his heart. We can only call to him from the depths of our hearts: Kyrie eleison — Lord, save us!"

The pope's letter also urged the Catholic Church to act against such abuse. He called on the faithful to "condemn whatever endangers the integrity of any person," and to "fight all forms of corruption, especially spiritual corruption."