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Church leaders ask forgiveness for protecting abusers of children

ROME (CNS): Marc Cardinal Ouellet presided over a vigil at St. Ignatius’ church in Rome, as part of a symposium attended by representatives from 110 bishops’ conferences and 30 religious congregations from around the world on February 7, as part of an expression of contrition for the sexual abuse of children by priests, brothers and sisters, and other Church personnel, as well as the bishops and superiors who shielded them from justice.

The February 6 to 9 symposium, entitled Toward Healing and Renewal, launched a global initiative aimed at improving efforts to prevent clerical sexual abuse and to protect children and vulnerable adults better. Held at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, it was supported by the Vatican Secretariat of State and several other Vatican offices.

Seven people representing groups that have been guilty or negligent, asked for forgiveness, both from God and victims, while an abuse victim, standing next to the cross of Jesus, prayed for the strength to pardon “the perpetrators who were protected and leaders, who were negligent in acting on reports of abuse.”

Marie Collins, an Irish survivor of clerical sex abuse, said one of the reasons that victims are still so hurt and angered is that “despite apologies for the actions of the abusers, there have been few apologies for the protection given to them by their superiors.”

She said, “There seems to be a lack of penalty for any of these men in leadership, who deliberately or negligently covered up for abusers, allowing them to continue to abuse unhindered.” 

Collins continued, “We have an example of this in Ireland with our own cardinal primate,” referring to Sean Cardinal Brady, of Armagh, Northern Ireland, who was attending the symposium. 

She added that the most healing thing that could possibly happen to her, and many other survivors, is hearing Church leaders ask for forgiveness for protecting abusers.

“We have had apologies, but forgiveness is a part of Christianity, a part of the Catholic Church,” she noted, adding that she thinks that is also extremely important.

She said that although she had already received an apology from the priest who abused her, she still wanted to hear the Church hierarchy apologise for the role it played in putting the reputation of the Church above the needs of people, particularly children in its care.

Father Hans Zollner, a licenced psychologist and psychotherapists, who was among the organisers of the conference, said there are conflicting attitudes within the Church about the abuse crisis. 

“There are forces that resist and there are people who work together for the better, and this is our goal here: to unite the forces that want to work for betterment,” he said.......

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