Pope Francis is often linked with St Francis of Assis. In fact he does so himself in Laudato Si when he refers to the importance of the world our common home. He also chose the name Francis on his election as pope referring to St Francis’ love and concern for the poor, a major focus in his papacy.
January 24th is the feastday of another namesake, St Francis de Sales, 17th century bishop in the post-Reformation era. He sought to build up the relationship between the Protestant reformers and Catholics. His many writings earned him the title Doctor of the Church and he is also the patron of journalists and writers. His classic INTRODUCTION TO THE DEVOUT LIFE is addressed not only to those in consecrated life but to lay people as well. In this famous and very detailed guide to a virtuous Christian life he promotes patience, humility and counsels against anger. He writes too of the vital importance of a good name.
In searching out a suitable quotation from St Francis de Sales the passage below all but jumped out at me as particularly relevant in the light of the news reports of Pope Francis’ visit to Chile and Peru. There was much reference to the evil and reality of child sexual abuse.
What does the passage have to say. “If, when stung by slander or ill-nature, we wax proud and swell with anger, it is a proof that our gentleness and humility are unreal, and mere artificial show.”
The Pope did spend time comforting those who had been abused but in one instance he stated that proof of a cover-up by the particular bishop needs to be presented. He used the strong term “calumny” which means a false accusation. Naturally this was taken up in the press which used the term “slander,” i.e damaging a person’s good name or reputation. Victims of abuse saw the Pope’s words as adding insult to injury, not being believed.
In short, there is no real end in sight yet to this ongoing saga of great pain to many, not only in South America but world-wide. Paedophilia has happened in all parts of the world, in the Church and in society. There is the pain of those who have been abused and who have carried their burden for many years. It has been proven that in most cases the accusations have been true but there is the pain too of those who have been falsely accused which can also be carried for many years. The pain of the Church as a body is very real and does call for this situation continuously to be addressed with wisdom so that healing can come about.
Reflection on the passage from the saint of the day, St Francis de Sales and some further reading in the INTRODUCTION TO THE DEVOUT LIFE from Part III. Chapter 29 on Slander provide more food for thought. It applies to other realities that face our countries today. Each of us in every country, every bishop and every Christian can take his words to heart.
Most people permit themselves absolute latitude in criticising and censuring rulers, and in calumniating nationalities, according to their own opinions and likings. But do you avoid this fault; it is displeasing to God, and is liable to lead you into disputes and quarrels. When you hear evil of any one, cast any doubt you fairly can upon the accusation; or if that is impossible, make any available excuse for the culprit; and where even that may not be, be yet pitiful and compassionate, and remind those with whom you are speaking that such as stand upright do so solely through God’s Grace. Do your best kindly to check the scandal-bearer, and if you know anything favourable to the person criticised, take pains to mention it.
TR Family Weekly 24 January 2018