Top Vatican officials attend child protection seminar

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

ROME (CNS) — There is absolutely no excuse for not
implementing concrete measures to protect minors and vulnerable adults from
sexual abuse, said Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston.

“Let there be no doubt about it: Pope Francis is
thoroughly committed to rooting out the scourge of sex abuse in the
church,” he said, and “effectively making our church safe for all
people demands our collaboration on all levels.”

The cardinal gave the opening prayer and address at a
daylong seminar March 23 at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University. The seminar
was sponsored by the papal advisory body Cardinal O’Malley heads, the
Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

A representative of every office of the Roman Curia
attended, including: Cardinals Pietro Parolin, secretary of state; Kevin
Farrell of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life; Joao Braz de Aviz of the
Congregation for Institutes for Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic
Life; Marc Ouellet of the Congregation for Bishops; and Peter Turkson of the Dicastery
for Integral Human Development. Also in attendance were rectors of pontifical
universities and colleges, and representatives from the Italian state police
and the Vatican gendarmes.

After leading a prayer calling for a greater love for God
and his creation, especially “your little ones,” Cardinal O’Malley
said holding a study day was an important part of fighting complacency and
knowing “we must continue to learn from our experiences, including our
mistakes,” and to better share resources and knowledge.

“There is simply no justification in our day for
failures to enact concrete safeguarding standards for our children, young men
and women and vulnerable adults,” he said. The church not only needs to
“reform and renew” its own institutions, but its members also must be
“witnesses and strong advocates” in society.

He said he told cardinals and the pope during a consistory
in Rome two years ago that the church “must address the evil of sexual
abuse by priests.”

While abuse by any kind of perpetrator is a problem, when
the abuser is a priest, “the damage is even more profound.” Also,
given “today’s world of instantaneous communications” Catholics are
much more aware, and quickly, of the problem of abuse in the church and are “demanding
that we, who are their pastors, take all necessary steps” to safeguard
those in their care.

The papal commission, which was founded in 2014, is guided
by a “victims-first” approach, he said, because all the best
protection programs and policies “will be to no avail if we fail to put
the victims and survivors first.”

While the cardinal did not mention the recent resignation of
Marie Collins, the last active member who is a survivor of clerical abuse, he
said the commission would be discussing during its closed-door plenary meeting,
“How can victim/survivors continue to have a powerful voice in our work
and help to guide us?” Collins, who was a member of the commission since
its inception, stepped down citing a chronic lack of cooperation from some in
the Roman Curia in following recommendations that had the pope’s support.

“It’s not enough to say ‘We are putting victims
first'” or that the church is seeking to listen to survivors, said Francis
Sullivan, head of the Truth, Justice and Healing Council, which was established
by the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference and Catholic Religious
Australia. The council oversees the church’s engagement with a state inquiry
into clerical sexual abuse.

“Words are not going to do it. Actions do it,” he
said in his presentation.

The “intense scrutiny” the church in Australia has
been through shows that the entire church must confront “the miserable
reality that sex abuse happened in our church.”

He urged everyone present to not “distract church
leaders” by pointing attention to all the other places and people in the
world guilty of abusing children.

“Sure it may happen in other places,” he said,
“but the fact that it happened in the Catholic Church says something about
the corruption in our church” and about how its members have “lost
the plot” and are no longer being true to their beliefs.

“Somehow we’ve not only enabled abusers to exist,”
Sullivan said, the church has allowed them “to continue to abuse.”

Keep the spotlight on “Why. Why did it happen in our
church?” he said, and “come to terms with that cancer.”

Otherwise, the risk remains that victims and survivors will
never be fully listened to or that their experience will never truly impact
people’s lives.

Don’t smother what a victim has to say, by countering with a
laundry list of “Yes, but” and all the ways the church is doing the
right thing, he said. “The ‘but’ part drowns out the voice of the victim.”
The church needs to “be humble” recognize all the “baggage”
in its past and “humbly face failures.”

Until leaders couple a genuine recognition of past wrongs
with concrete action in best practices, Catholics and others will not believe
any of the talk and the church won’t regain its credibility, he said.

Sullivan said when the pope and others talk about the need
for a reform of the heart, people need to realize “that the decisions our
leaders made in order to facilitate and cover up actually broke the heart of
what it meant to be Catholic.”

“We need to go back and confront that,” he said.

Cardinal Braz de Aviz told Catholic News Service that the
meeting showed “the conscience of the church” and a “very
important” shift in perspective, or in other words, “the recovery of

While abuse is a problem throughout society, he said it took
a lot of courage from the church to recognize its role in the problem.

There is no longer any place for the “old way of doing
things” with abusive clergy or religious — such as moving them from one
assignment to another, the cardinal said. “We have to totally change the
way of doing” things.

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