Pastoral Letter of Cardinal John Tong
Looking at the Church with the Eyes of Faith
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The Peace of the Lord be with you!
As we all know, the Church is a community, but what makes her so different from secular communities is that her members are called by God, united by the same faith and entrusted with the salvific mission of spreading the Gospel, leading mankind to eternal life and bringing about the full realization of the Kingdom of God. The pilgrim Church on earth is called to holiness, to be a “Communion of Saints”, but through human frailty she has regrettably from time to time become a “Community of Sinners”. Yet, in spite of her faults and weaknesses, the Church must not give up the mission entrusted to her; rather, she must repent and, relying on the unfailing help of God’s grace, continue her journey towards her heavenly goal.
The need for the Church to reform, purify and sanctify herself is an ongoing, day-to-day process, without which she cannot expect to be the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world” (cf. Mt. 5: 13-16) . In this connection may I, as your Pastor, invite you to join me in pondering with the eyes of faith the following two issues, which are of special relevance for the Church today:
I. The Role of the Pope
It is no exaggeration to say that Pope Francis has gained recognition, not only as a humble and open-minded Church leader who zealously proclaims the message of God’s Mercy and Love, but also as a public person who has significantly contributed to world peace and interreligious dialogue. We note , however, that there are Church members who do harbour some sort of perplexity, distrust or even hostility towards Pope Francis, regarding him as not knowing what he is saying or doing, or as deviating from the teaching of the Church.
Let us first of all bear in mind that the Church must keep abreast of the times. While preserving the integrity of the “deposit of faith” and remaining faithful to the teaching of the Apostles and to Tradition, the Church is bound in every age to preach the perennial Gospel message and present the Catholic faith anew, in a manner intelligible and appealing to mankind. Secondly, the Church must continue to reform and purify herself, so that she may shine forth as the Bride of Christ. These goals are precisely what Pope Francis has been aiming at. It is our duty to give him our full support.
Furthermore, just as St. Peter the Apostle was chosen by Christ as His Vicar, the Pope, as the successor of Peter, is also the “Vicar of Christ”. In leading the Church in the name of Christ our Lord, the Pope, like St. Peter, is being strengthened and enlightened by the Holy Spirit. Humanly speaking, the Pope, like any other person, has his limitations and weaknesses. But he is the “Rock”, the unshakable foundation upon which Christ has built his Church. To the Pope, as to St. Peter, Christ has given the “Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven” (cf. Mt. 16, 18-19). Down through the centuries, the “Ark of Peter” has gone through countless dark nights and braved countless storms, but, always accompanied by Christ, it will safely reach its heavenly destination. (cf. Jn 6:16-21; Mt 14:22-30; Mt 28:20)
There are some Church members who seem to be willing to stand by the Pope only when he shares their ideas, but they speak against the Pope when he holds a different view. Certainly, the Pope speaks infallibly only under very special conditions with regard to Catholic faith and morals, still, we are bound to show Christian obedience to him when he, as Supreme Pastor of the Universal Church, teaches or guides the People of God under other circumstances. We, as Catholics, are also obliged to respect the officials of the Roman Curia who are chosen by the Pope himself to be his close collaborators in his mission as Supreme Pastor.
Vatican II indeed teaches that the faithful, individually or together, are endowed with the sensus fidei [supernatural appreciation of the faith: cf. Lumen Gentium(LG), n. 12; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 91-94, 99]. Moreover, the faithful have the right —indeed sometimes the obligation— to manifest their opinions on those things which pertain to the good of the Church (cf. LG, n. 37). However, there is a limit on voicing our views, especially if doing so causes serious confusion or disharmony among the faithful, so that the common good of the Church and our communion with her are at stake.
Vatican II [in particular Lumen Gentium] teaches that our Communion (Koinonia or Fellowship) with the Church is realized at three levels: (1) Spiritual or Ecclesial Communion between all the faithful and between Particular Churches, by virtue of baptism and sharing the life of the Holy Trinity (cf. LG4, 13); (2) Catholic Communion or Ecclesiatical Communion between the Particular Churches and the Church of Rome, by virtue of their sharing the same, faith, doctrines, sacraments and governance (cf. LG13, 14, 15); (3) Hierarchical Communion, which refers to the Church as an organically structured body, with the Pope as “the perpetual and visible source and foundation of unity both of the bishops worldwide (of whom he is the Head) and of all the faithful” (LG23; cf. LG 18, 22).
To lead our life of faith to the full, our communion with the Church is indispensable. We are bound to preserve such a communion at all times, even in our external actions (cf. Canon 209§1). In exercising our rights as Christ’s faithful, we must also take into due account the common good of the Church (cf. Canons 223§1).
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II. Sexual Abuse of Minors
The second issue I ask you to ponder with me is about the deplorable crimes of the sexual abuse of minors and other vulnerable persons perpetrated by the Catholic clergy. Such scandals have caused great pain to the victims, to their families and to many Catholic communities, and have created a grave crisis in the Church worldwide. The Church has lost a great deal of credibility, and many members of the faithful have left the Church or given up the practice of their faith.
In order to take more drastic measures to resolve the problem of the sexual abuse of minors, Pope Francis convened a meeting in Rome on February 21 – 24, attended by representatives of Bishops’ conferences and religious institutes from around the world. The victims were heard, and the Holy See and Church officials pledged to spare no effort to prevent such scandals from ever happening again.
Our Lord Jesus Christ has strong words against those who harm children. (cf. Mt. 18:6-7). The fact that the crime of sexual abuse of minors is found, tragically, in all human communities, does not minimize the scandalous nature and the responsibility of the Catholic clergy and Church leaders. Rightly, people have high expectations of Catholic pastors, who are supposed to set an example of impeccable moral conduct, especially in view of their thorough formation and the sacred mission they are to carry out. Regrettably, too often it has been brought to light that clerics have abused their position or power, and have thereby betrayed the trust that minors and their families have placed in them.
In Hong Kong, a case of the sexual abuse of a minor by a priest surfaced in 2002. Since then our Diocese has been doing what lies within its power to make its services safe for everybody, above all for minors and other vulnerable people, the protection of whose well-being is considered one of our top priorities. Following the instructions of the Holy See, which are applicable to the whole Church in 2009, our Diocese devised a Code of Conduct for Ministry to Minors and a Code of Action for Handling Complaints of Sexual Abuse of Minors in Diocesan Organizations. In addition, a Working Committee for Handling Complaints of Sexual Abuse of Minors in Diocesan Organizations was formed. In so far as it is practicable, our Diocese is ready to offer necessary support for the psychological and spiritual healing of the victims of sexual abuse.
Our plan for the future includes revising the two diocesan Codes in the light of relevant guidelines to be issued by the Holy See as a follow-up to the aforementioned meeting held in Rome. We will provide a sound programme to assist candidates for Holy Orders to reach a psychosexual maturity, as well as related ongoing formation programmes for the clergy.
As far as Church leaders and those involved in pastoral services or Church activities are concerned, they should never be alone with a single child in an isolated and closed place for whatever reason. Priests should hear the confessions of children in locations where trusted adults are also present, without prejudice to confidentiality. All Church activities involving minors should be made public and should include more than one trusted adult.
Persons who believe themselves to be victims of sexual abuse, or have knowledge of cases of alleged abuse, have the right to report them to the civil authorities and to the ecclesiastical authorities.
There is no place for a culture of silence and covering up in Church circles. What is called for is transparency. Victims and potential victims are those who need to be protected, not the reputation of the perpetrators, nor that of ecclesiastical structures. The best way to help the predators to change their way of life is to confront them and to make them face their conscience and assume responsibility for their crimes.
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In conclusion, let us look at the current situation of the Church with the eyes of faith, and not give up hope. Let us pray in particular for all the clergy, that they may remain steadfast in following their vocations and lead exemplary lives at the service of the People of God. Just as Christ had called the seven primitive Churches in Asia Minor to repentance by “listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit” (Rev. 2-3), He is calling the whole Church today to do the same. Let the purification of the Church begin with each one of us.
May God enlighten the Pope and the Holy See in guiding the Church with wisdom. May God also bless the Church abundantly, so that she may attain purification and regain her credibility before the world.
+John Card. TONG
Ash Wednesday, 6 March 2019