In his preface for a book written by a survivor of clerical sex abuse, Pope Francis once again lamented the “monstrosity” of the act, calling the author, Daniel Pittet, courageous for his willingness to forgive his abuser and to share his story with the world.
“For those who have been victims of a pedophile it is difficult to talk about what they have been through and describe the trauma that still persist after many years,” the Pope said in the preface, published earlier this month.
Because of this, “Daniel Pittet’s testimony is necessary, treasured and courageous.”
In his 240-page book, titled “I Forgive You, Father: Surviving a Broken Childhood,” Pittet shares the story of his difficult childhood, during which he and his siblings were shuffled around different foster homes after their parents’ separation before eventually meeting the friar who would abuse him.
At the age of nine, Pittet was lured by a Capuchin friar into the convent attached to his parish, where he would from that day be raped on a weekly basis for four years, with those around him in denial.
Pittet’s book details not only the tragic suffering he endured, but also the long path he has taken to forgiveness, culminating in the civil and ecclesial recognition of his abusers’ crimes, and his own ability to move forward in building a family and a professional career.
Not only is the book unique for the author of its preface, but it ends with an interview conducted with the friar who abused Pittet, marking one of the rare occasions when a pedophile speaks publicly.
In his preface, Pope Francis thanked Pitett for sharing his story, “because testimony like his breaks down the wall of silence that covered scandals and suffering, shedding light on a terrible dark area in the life of the Church.”
These types of testimonies, he said, “open the way to a just mending and to the grace of reconciliation, helping pedophiles to become aware of the terrible consequences of their actions.”
Francis said he had originally met Pittet at the Vatican during the Year for Consecrated Life in 2015, and that the author had wanted to give heavy promotion to a book called “To Love is to Give Everything,” which was a collection of the testimonies of priests, religious and consecrated men and women.
At the time, “I could not have imagined that this enthusiastic and passionate Christian man had been the victim of abuse by a priest,” Francis said, adding that “yet this is what he told me, and his suffering struck me very much.”
In hearing Pittet’s story, the Pope said he saw once again both “the tremendous damage caused by sexual abuse” and the “long and painful journey that awaits the victims.”
“I am happy that others can read his testimony today and discover how far evil can enter the heart of a servant of the Church,” he said, asking how a priest committed to serving Christ and his Church can “cause so much harm.”
“How can someone who devoted their life to lead children to God, end up instead to devour them in what I called ‘a diabolical sacrifice’ that destroys both the victim and the life of the Church?”
Francis noted that some victims of abuse have committed suicide. “These deaths weigh on my heart, on my conscience and that of the whole Church,” he said, and, addressing their families, said “I offer my feelings of love and pain and humbly, I ask forgiveness.”
Clerical sex abuse “is an absolute monstrosity, a horrible sin, radically against everything that Christ has taught us,” the Pope said, and pointed to his June 4, 2016, motu proprio “Like a loving mother.”
In the document, in which the Pope deemed that negligence on the part of a bishop in handling cases of abuse is enough to oust him from office, it was stressed that the Church “must take care and protect with special love the weak and the helpless” with the tenderness of a mother.
“We have stated that it is our duty to be extremely strict with the priests who betray their mission, and with their hierarchy, bishops or cardinals, who might protect them, as has happened in the past,” Francis saod.
However, the Pope noted that despite the various trials Pittet endured as a child, he also “met another face of the Church, and this allowed him to not lose hope in men and in God.”
“(Pittet) tells us of the power of prayer that he has never abandoned, and that has comforted him in the darkest hours,” he said, pointing to the fact that the author chose to meet his “tormentor” 44 years later, wanting “to look into the eyes of the man who has hurt him in the depths of his soul.”
Instead of condemning the friar, Pittet “lent him his hand,” Francis said, noting that “the wounded child is now a standing man, fragile but standing.”
Pointing to a line written by Pittet in the book, the Pope said he was impressed by the author’s declaration that “many people fail to understand the fact that I do not hate him. I have forgiven him and I built my life on that forgiveness.”
Francis closed his preface saying that he prays for Pittet and “for all those who, like him, were wounded in their innocence, may God lift them and heal them, and give us all his forgiveness and mercy.”