Friday, May 5, 2023

Pope Francis emphasizes perseverance in Commission's work to protect minors


Pope Francis addressing the Vatican Commission for the Protection of Minors Pope Francis addressing the Vatican Commission for the Protection of Minors   (Vatican Media)

Pope encourages Commission for Protection of Minors to persevere

Pope Francis addresses the members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, and encourages them to persevere in their work despite difficulties and the unfounded impression “that little is changing for the better”.

By Lisa Zengarini

Efforts to improve guidelines and standards for the conduct of clergy and religious to safeguard against sexual abuse in the Church "must continue", Pope Francis told members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors on Friday.

The Commission, which was created in 2014, is meeting this week for its second plenary assembly since the Apostolic Constitution ‘Praedicate Evangelium’ formally established it within the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith in June 2022.

The session’s agenda includes a review of the Commission's task to provide annual audits of safeguarding reports by Bishops' Conferences, a review of its five-year strategic plan, and an "open discussion on how to better define working methods, roles and responsibilities" of the body, among other listed items.

The failure to act properly has sullied our witness to God’s love

In his address, Pope Francis reaffirmed once again that the sexual abuse crisis is “particularly serious for the Church”, because “it undermines her ability to fully embrace and bear witness to God’s liberating presence”.  “The failure to act properly to halt this evil and to assist its victims has sullied our witness to God’s love”, he said.

In this context, the Pope emphasized, the “sins of omission” though they seem “less real”, are not less grave than the actual sins committed by abusers.

Indeed, the failure, especially on the part of the Church’s leaders, to do what should have been done, “has been a cause of scandal for many”.

Church has not remained silent or inactive in the face of the abuse crisis

At the same time the Church has “not remained silent or inactive”, the Pope noted, recalling his recent confirmation of the Motu Proprio 'Vos Estis Lux Mundi' (VELM), that calls for setting aside places in which to receive accusations and care for those who report that they have been harmed,  and holds bishops and religious superiors accountable for the abuse that they commit or cover-up. Those rules, he said, are now permanently in place. 

“No one today can honestly claim to be unaffected by the reality of sexual abuse in the Church”

Persevere and keep moving forwards

As the Commission continues its work in addressing the crisis, Pope Francis invited its members to bear in mind three principles.

He first exhorted them to “persevere and keep moving forwards” and not to “grow discouraged when it seems that little is changing for the better”, keeping in mind “God’s creative power to make hope emerge from despair”.

Dialogue with survivors

The Pope then asked the members of the Commission to help repair the many lives that have been broken by sexual abuse, including families and friends of the victims, by dialoguing with survivors and encouraging them to open up and share their pain so they can reconcile with the Church.

“Recently I met with a group of survivors of abuse, who had asked to meet with the leadership of the religious institute that ran the school they attended around fifty years ago. I mention this because they discussed it openly. All of them were elderly and some of them, realizing that time is passing quickly, expressed their wish to live out their remaining years in peace. For them, peace meant resuming their relationship with the Church that had hurt them.”

A moment of reparation for the Church 

Thirdly, Pope Francis invited the members of the Commission to be “gentle” in their actions, “bearing one another’s burdens, without complaining, but considering that this moment of reparation for the Church will give way to a further moment in the history of salvation”. 

“Now – he insisted - is the time to repair the damage done to previous generations and to those who continue to suffer”. 

Recalling the expertise they have offered in the past decade to assist the various particular Churches in addressing sexual abuse, the Pope again reaffirmed that “the importance of safeguarding minors and vulnerable persons must be the rule for everyone” and that “the principles of respect for the dignity of all, for right conduct and a sound way of life must become a universal rule, independent of people’s culture or economic and social condition". 

“All the Church’s ministers must respect this rule in the way they serve the faithful, and they in turn must be treated with respect and dignity by those who lead the community.”

Cooperation with the Roman Curia

Bringing his address to a close, Pope Francis acknowledged the Commission’s plans for addressing inequalities within the Church through extending its training programmes and assistance to victims in Africa, Asia and Latin America, and expressed  his appreciation for the recent cooperation agreement with the Dicastery for Evangelization, heeding his encouragement to share its expertise in addressing this complex issue with the Roman Curia.

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