An Open Letter to Pope Francis
+JMJ+ If you've been following the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church, you may recall that the Vatican held a sexual abuse summit in February of 2019. At the time, I wrote a letter to Pope Francis and was reassured by my Archbishop, Cardinal Sean O'Malley, that he would bring it to the summit and present it to the Holy Father. I have not received any response (nor do I expect any) but I wanted to publicly share my letter. At the time, I didn't have a blog and only shared this on my Faith Restored Facebook page.
Many months have, of course, passed since I wrote this but my feelings have not changed. Perhaps there are things I would rephrase or things I would add but, having been a victim of clerical abuse, it's pretty difficult putting all my thoughts and emotions into something like this. And so I humbly offer you what I have written - imperfections and all! There are so many points of view and opinions on this crisis we find ourselves in. This letter contains the point of view of just one person and I'm sure some people will agree while others will disagree. Again, this was very difficult to write but I said what I felt the Holy Spirit was calling to at that time.
Please. I beg of all of you who read this to never stop praying and never stop fighting. Please stand and fight for our Church!
God bless you all,
His Holiness Pope Francis
Your Holiness, Out of love for my beloved Church and for my fellow survivors of clerical abuse, I humbly ask to speak frankly to you and your brethren.
I was fifteen years old when I was raped by the Rev. Kelvin Iguabita, a recently ordained priest who was stationed at our parish in Massachusetts. Working a few hours every week in the parish rectory, for months I endured sexual abuse by this man. I was raped. I was so innocent and naive and in such shock that I could hardly wrap my brain around what was going on. I vividly recall looking at a small statue of the Blessed Mother and repeating over and over, “Make it stop. Make it stop.” After that particular incident, Kelvin began calling me by the sick nickname he had chosen for me. “You little thing.” He would even call me this in front of my family who, of course, knew nothing. It was repulsive.
Words cannot describe the harsh reality of what my life became during those many months. Inside, I suffered in a deep pit of fear, shame, and confusion. The priesthood, a position I had always held so dear, became to me a repulsive institution. I came to fear the white collar. I doubted God's presence and felt abandoned. At my lowest point, I contemplated taking God's most precious gift – my life.
The unexpected death of my oldest brother, Matthew (age 22), a year later from an undetected heart condition sent me into a downward spiral causing my concerned parents to put me into grief therapy. It was there that I was finally able to begin my release from the chains that had held me captive and, by the grace of God, to slowly begin healing.
After learning that my rapist had other female victims, I made the difficult decision to face him in court - one of the most difficult things I have ever done. Just weeks after my high school graduation, I spent three grueling hours testifying and being cross-examined on the stand. My family and I were subjected to harsh judgments and ridicule. Recounting the events of those months of sexual abuse in the rectory and in the church in front of my rapist was the worst form of public humiliation I have ever endured. The news articles that followed added to my pain and humiliation. After a two-week trial, Kelvin was found guilty and sentenced to 8-10 years in prison. He was defrocked and upon release was deported to his native Colombia.
Close to twenty years later, I am finally able to look back and recognize that God never abandoned me. Rather, he was closest to me in the midst of my suffering. Being able to find the beauty and deeper meaning in suffering is truly a gift and I am glad to say I can finally pray for Kelvin. I forgave him long ago but the scars that he left will always remain. Several other women have privately contacted me over the years to share their stories of sexual abuse and rape by him.
Along with four other abuse survivors, I was given the opportunity to meet with Pope Benedict XVI in 2008 during his visit to Washington, DC in the United States. When my moment to speak with him came, I could think of nothing profound to say. However, I was overcome by a deluge of tears. Those tears spoke volumes. The Holy Spirit used the most innocent form of expression to speak of my pain and the pain of all survivors. I left that meeting feeling more hope than I had in a very long time and since then I have felt a burning desire in my heart to reach out to others who have also been hurt. I wish to offer them the same hope I received and to show others that with faith there is always hope. Praise be to God I found a wonderful and holy man to spend my life with. We have been married for ten years and we have been blessed with three beautiful children. Our Catholic faith is at the core of our family life which is part of the reason we have chosen to homeschool.
Sadly, my trust in priests and in the church hierarchy was yet again shaken (if not more so) with the release of information from Pennsylvania last summer. Since then, the wound has been opened again and again and I have heard report after report of sexual misconduct by clergymen and also of the men who have covered for their sins. In 2002, you were given an opportunity to clean house when news of the sexual abuse scandal broke in Boston, Massachusetts. You failed. It would have been better if all the information you had was released and dealt with all at once – every complaint and every file released to law enforcement and dealt with swiftly. While there have been new measures made to buckle down on this issue, sexual abuse within the church is not a dead issue. It is not just something that happened long ago. I am proof of that. And many of the issues leading to this crisis remain, including the culture of silence and secrecy.
Decades of silence have passed. Lives have been hurt, lives have been ruined and many souls have been lost. I thank Almighty God that I have found strength and hope through my faith. However, my story is just one of many, and sadly, not everyone has had the same support. All survivors deserve to be heard. The silence from some of you has been deafening. The cries of the innocent rise up and grow louder and harder to ignore. The time for silence is over.
While it is impossible to blame any one factor for the sex abuse crisis, this much is clear: evil was allowed to infiltrate the church. Too many clergymen have chosen the devil's path by choosing to protect the wolves instead of the sheep. Too many among you have put your relationship with your brothers before your relationship with God. Too many of you have been won over by the world and fallen away from the true teachings of Jesus. Not one of you is above the law – the laws of the land nor the laws of God. Sin is sin and yet it would seem so often that good is seen as bad and bad is seen as good.
We are all sinners. Mercy and forgiveness are precious gifts! However, the Almighty is also a just judge and demands repentance. I wonder how many souls have been led down the path to hell because of your bad example and corruption. Bishops, take heed! You are the shepherds! The devil attacks you knowing that, if you stray, many of those entrusted to your care will follow. Each and every one of you will have to stand before God someday and face judgment. You know well the verse from Matthew chapter 16, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of things that cause sin! Such things must come, but woe to the one through whom they come!”
The current situation in the church is not a rabbit hole. It is a crisis and it needs to be swiftly dealt with. There can be mercy, yes, but there must also be transparency and justice! When will you admit that homosexuality is a very big factor in this crisis? For how much longer will you deny the existence of a lavender mafia? Our Lord wants his House cleaned! Yet, you turn away from his urging over and over again. This is a time for acknowledgment of wrong-doing and a time for action. This is a time for all of us, faithful clergy and laity alike, to put on the full armor of God and fight to rebuild our church.
I am deeply grateful for those among you who have publicly denounced the actions of the corrupt and striven to take action. Thank you to those of you who are tirelessly fighting alongside the faithful. Thank you to those of you who have sought to shepherd us and to guide us by your own good example.
I do not envy the grave responsibility that lies before you. You have the responsibility to root out the evil corrupting the church. You have the responsibility to rebuild the Catholic Church. There can be no excuses, especially now. The scab on this painful wound will only continue to be ripped off again and again if you do not fight for real change. More and more souls will be lost if your poor leadership continues.
Transparency about reporting is vital if any change is to take place. All priests and bishops must report sexual offenses against children and adults immediately to local law enforcement. Abusers must be tried and, if found guilty by a jury of their peers, punished to the fullest extent of the law. Anyone who has willfully covered for his brother deserves to be removed from the clerical state and given jail time. Any member of the clergy who is practicing homosexuality or advocating for it needs to be removed. Even in the midst of this crisis which has been linked to homosexuality time and time again, I hear of clergymen publicly advocating for the homosexual lifestyle and aligning themselves with the LGBTQ community. Why is this allowed to continue? Yes, we are all to be accepted into the church as sinners but we also need to resolve to not sin again (to the best of our ability). It is ludicrous and diabolical to think that Jesus would invite people to receive Holy Communion knowingly in the state of mortal sin! We are called to love our brothers and sisters. We are not called to love their sin. Most LGBTQ groups don't want a bridge to become true followers of Christ. Rather, they want full acceptance of their sin and to be allowed to continue living their disordered lifestyles. I cannot judge the soul of another, but as a confirmed Catholic I do have the duty to show someone who may be ignorant of their sin the truth and encourage them to closer unity with God and his church. Why are priests who publicly support and advocate for the LGBTQ lifestyle allowed to remain in the priesthood?
This crisis is not just about removing sexual predators and corrupt individuals from the priesthood. This crisis is, first and foremost, a result of our shepherds turning away from God. Somewhere along the way in the United States, a liberal, socialist mindset was allowed to seep in. The words of Bella Dodd, a prominent leader of the Communist party in America, come to mind. “In the 1930's, we put eleven hundred men into the priesthood in order to destroy the priesthood from within. Right now they are in the highest places in the church. They are working to bring about change in order that the Catholic Church would not be effective against communism. You will not recognize the Catholic Church.” These are indeed sobering words to ponder and one has to wonder if part of our suffering is being caused by those eleven hundred men who spread the error of their ways. We have lost our focus as a church. We can no longer answer the question, “Who are we as a church?” Even within local churches in my own city, I hear varying beliefs among the laity and even among priests! The traditional family, the core of Catholic life and of society, is in shatters. I know many Catholics who are in favor of abortion, the homosexual lifestyle and gay “marriage.”
Why is there such disunity among Catholics? Why are even some priests publicly endorsing political candidates who are not pro-life? Why were there priests publicly denouncing the group of boys from Covington Catholic at the recent Washington, DC March for Life before all the information was even released proving their innocence, and yet many of these same priests were silent on the recent murderous RHA legislation signed into law in New York by Governor Cuomo who claims to be Catholic? Why do so many of you allow yourselves to be bullied by the mainstream media into saying and doing what the modern-day world considers right? Why are priests silent about politicians who support abortion and yet quick to crucify individuals who are opposed to illegal immigration which is an ongoing debate in the United States? Why are priests so silent on family issues and artificial birth control? My own parents who taught Natural Family Planning at a Pre-Cana class years ago were escorted out of a church by a priest and a nun and asked to never return. These are not the leaders we need to help rebuild the church!
Why are the voices of some good, holy clergymen forced into silence? Brave men who choose to go against the grain and publicly speak out against the filth within the church are often silenced. They are persecuted for telling the truth while others flaunt their liberal, socialist propaganda and build their flock around twisted church teaching. There is no room for “cafeteria Catholicism.”
Our church needs to be rebuilt from the ground up. Dear bishops, get back to the business of working to save souls. You have within your hands the power to create real change! You have the power to offer hope! You have within your hands the ability to turn this church back over to Our Lord! Who among you will be the first to step up? Who among you is not afraid to be mocked as Jesus was? Who among you is willing to go against your fellow brethren who have failed? Who among you has the courage to listen to the Holy Spirit?
In spite of the deep flaws that continue to come to light, I choose to hold onto hope. I forgive those who have failed and please know of my continual prayers and sufferings offered for you. My faith is what gives me hope and it is my faith that shines forth a glimmering light through the darkness that I have endured. The church needs to be purged so that it can experience renewal and God's light and grace once again.
Perhaps my words and the pleadings of so many others will fall on deaf ears. I pray they do not! Please. I beg of you, do not fail in the task that has been set before you. With Love for Christ and the Church, Faith Hakesley