Michael J. Salamon

An open letter to Pope Francis

I never thought I would be writing a letter to a Pope, certainly not a congratulatory note. Nevertheless, there is a good reason why. Pope Francis has publicly announced an order to create a commission charged with the task of studying the history of how the Church reacted to the rape and intimidation of children by priests. The commission is also charged to develop a plan to move forward by developing a protocol to reform a system that has, at its very best, shied away from the topic for millennium and at its worst created and fostered an environment that allowed abuse to occur and go on unabated. The commission will be comprised of experts, religious and lay leaders, and individuals who represent a broad coalition with an international perspective who will likely develop a strong program of training for Roman Catholic priests to protect the children in their care.

Pope Francis, you are to be commended for not continuing to sweep the curse of abuse under the rug and for openly admitting that there is a problem that must be addressed; it is about time! Perhaps your brave action in establishing this commission will have a major positive impact for Roman Catholics everywhere and will act as a bellwether for other religions. Perhaps too the leaders of other religions who are known to give meek voice to the fact that a problem exists but act in a manner that minimizes or even ignores the necessity to take action to curb the abuse will follow your brave lead.

While I laud your act, I have a few suggestions. I know that once established the commission would report on such things as grooming behaviors abusers tend to employ, how they prey on certain types of vulnerable individuals and depersonalize them to make them dependent on a need to connect with their abusers. I know the commission will also point out that abusers of children tend to find ways to be around children in a variety of both professional and volunteer roles. The commission will undoubtedly further suggest background checking. Doing background checks of everyone in the system, while effective in some cases, will only weed out those with a history who have been caught, it is not the panacea for this ailment. I would also suggest that you consider appointing experts to the commission who are not of the same faith. It is important for the sake of openness and honesty that additional perspectives be included. It would be terribly wrong if it even appeared that the wolf was guarding the chicken coop.

Most importantly, your holiness, I would like to suggest that you consider two additional factors. The first is that adults who were abused as children and even children who were abused be included in this process. This would be a truly eye opening experience for the commission and it would give a great deal of insight into the actual techniques employed by priests who abused. It would also go a long way in the healing process.

The other suggestion comes from a study panel of religious and lay leaders created in the American Roman Catholic system more than a decade ago. The most pointed recommendation was that “there must be consequences” for those religious leaders who protect priests from criminal prosecution. I am sure you realize that only properly trained professionals, police officers, detectives and certain mental health experts have the ability to properly investigate abusers and only secular courts can arrest and prosecute abusers. Allow me to suggest ‘There must be consequences’ as the appropriate title for the commission. The only way to control this horrific bane is by assuring anyone who considers the possibility of abusing that they will be prosecuted and the consequences for abuse will not be minimal.

Again, I commend your efforts. I hope they rapidly bear fruit.

About the Author
Dr. Michael Salamon ,a fellow of the American Psychological Association, is an APA Presidential Citation Awardee for his 'transformative work in raising awareness of the prevention and treatment of childhood sexual abuse". He is the founder and director of ADC Psychological Services in New York and Netanya, the author of numerous articles, several psychological tests and books including "The Shidduch Crisis: Causes and Cures" (Urim Publications), "Every Pot Has a Cover" (University Press of America) and "Abuse in the Jewish Community: Religious and Communal Factors that Undermine the Apprehension of Offenders and the Treatment of Victims."
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