Pope urges religious leaders to recognize errors in dealing with clergy abuse
WARSAW, Poland (CNS) – Pope Francis urged bishops across Eastern Europe to recognize mistakes in their handling of sexual abuse in order to open “new horizons of love and mutual service”.
Speaking on September 19 in a video message on the opening day of a church-sponsored conference on child welfare in the Polish capital, the Pope recalled how he encouraged conference leaders Episcopal who met him in Rome in February 2019 to ensure that “the welfare of the victims could not be sidelined in favor of an erroneous concern for the reputation of the institutional church.
“Our expressions of sadness must be converted into concrete avenues of reform to both prevent further abuses and give confidence to others that our efforts will bring real and reliable change,” the Pope said.
Church representatives and child protection experts from 20 countries participate in the four-day conference, organized by the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors and the Conference of Polish Bishops.
Pope Francis said he hoped the meeting “would truly touch the future of the church in Central and Eastern Europe” and “the hearts of Christians as well”. He said the church should have “nothing to fear” in tackling clergy sexual abuse.
“Recognizing our mistakes and failures can certainly make us feel vulnerable and fragile. But it can also present a moment of splendid grace, a moment of self-denial which opens up new horizons of love and reciprocal service ”, declared the Pope.
“I urge you to be humble instruments of the Lord, at the service of victims of abuse, considering them as companions and protagonists of a common future,” he added.
In another speech, an American cardinal at the head of child welfare at the Vatican called for a change “in all aspects of the life of the church” and for the testimonies of the victims to be received “with the greatest respect ”.
“Conversion at the personal and institutional level is at the heart of the renewal process,” Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston, president of the Pontifical Commission, told participants.
“It is important that we all maintain the focus on providing accessible, welcoming and non-judgmental opportunities for survivors and their loved ones to contact and engage in dialogue with the local church,” he said. declared.
The cardinal acknowledged that many priests in Eastern Europe had “suffered or given their lives to defend the faith,” but added that the worldwide spread of the crisis of abuse now forced the church to avoid the defensive and to offer “a deep listening to the survivors”.
Also addressing the conference, the president of the Polish Bishops’ Conference said that Pope Francis had noted in his 2019 motu proprio, “Vos Estis Lux Mundi” (“You are the light of the world”), that the Safeguarding was necessary not only for children, but for all those who are vulnerable to “abuse of power, deception or coercion”.
“It is not uncommon for the aggressor to make the victim believe that what he incites and forces her to do does not constitute evil,” said Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki of Poznan.
“It must be honestly recognized that we have committed many acts of neglect of victims in the church. This kind of confrontation with the truth, however, should not lead us to defeatism or despair, ”he said.
Sexual abuse has been reported across Eastern Europe by members of the Catholic Church clergy and other faiths, triggering backlash from politicians and the media.
In Poland, where 10 mostly retired bishops were sanctioned for ignoring allegations of abuse, a September 15 report on abuses in the Dominican religious order confirmed widespread cover-ups and accused a former provincial, in detention since March, for raping nuns.
Bishop Gadecki said the Polish bishops appointed a child protection coordinator in 2013 while ensuring that all dioceses and religious orders have care specialists. The conference also established a basis for prevention and victim support.
However, several victims, including Franciscan Father Tarsyciusz Krasucki, told the conference that the church’s lengthy proceedings still lacked transparency and favored the perpetrators.
And a member of the organizing committee, Ewa Kusz, said in an interview with Vatican Radio on September 19 that many victims in Eastern Europe remained “completely alone in their suffering”.
“They expect the church to recognize the abuse not as a sin committed by a sinner that must be forgiven, but as a criminal act that has hurt them,” said Kusz, a Krakow-based psychologist.
“They do not want to be treated as nuisances disturbing the sacred peace, as intruders or, worse, as people acting against the church.”
In addition, Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, a child protection expert attending the conference, told Vatican Radio that bishops in the region have generally established “appropriate guidelines” for responding to allegations of abuse.
He explained, however, that financial and human resources, and “cultural attitudes towards speaking out,” still varied widely, and said bishops’ conferences should now produce annual reports detailing allegations and proceedings.
Father Zollner described how the reporting of abuse had posed particular problems in Eastern Europe, where many people had grown up under the Communist regime with suspicion of “authorities and law enforcement”.
“Churches have been under siege for decades, and it has certainly been difficult to openly deal with criticism and wrongdoing,” he said.
“People don’t feel comfortable talking about sexuality, let alone sexual misconduct on the part of authority figures. … We have to recognize that it will be a long journey.