Print Version    Email to Friend
Time for ‘all-out battle’ against abuse

VATICAN (SE): “I make a heartfelt appeal for an all-out battle against the abuse of minors both sexually and in other areas, on the part of all authorities and individuals, for we are dealing with abominable crimes that must be erased from the face of the earth,” Pope Francis said in closing the February 21 to 24 Vatican summit on The Protection of Minors in the Church.
In his speech, published on the website, he began by placing the abuse of children in the wider, global context, noting that it has been “a widespread phenomenon in all cultures and societies,” coming under greater scrutiny only relatively recently, “thanks to changes in public opinion regarding a problem that was previously considered taboo.” 
He lamented that, “The statistics available on the sexual abuse of minors drawn up by various national and international organisations and agencies (WHO, UNICEF, Interpol, Europol and others) do not represent the real extent of the phenomenon, which is often underestimated, mainly because many cases of the sexual abuse of minors go unreported, particularly the great number committed within families.”
However he went on to stress, “This evil is in no way less monstrous when it takes place within the Church,” and that sexual abuse of minors is “all the more grave and scandalous in the Church, for it is utterly incompatible” with the its moral authority and ethical credibility.
Recalling the child sacrifices in ancient pagan rituals, he said it continues today with an “idolatrous sacrifice of children to the god of power, money, pride and arrogance.” 
The pope said, “I see the hand of evil that does not spare even the innocence of the little ones. And this leads me to think of the example of Herod who, driven by fear of losing his power, ordered the slaughter of all the children of Bethlehem.”
He cautioned that the scourge sexual abuse of any kind cannot be fully confronted without also accounting for abuse of power. “It is always the result of an abuse of power, an exploitation of the inferiority and vulnerability of the abused, which makes possible the manipulation of their conscience and of their psychological and physical weakness,” the pope said.
Not mincing his words, the pope went on to say, “Consecrated persons, chosen by God to guide souls to salvation, let themselves be dominated by their human frailty or sickness and thus become tools of Satan.”
He said that people’s anger over the mishandling of abuse is nothing other than a reflection of “the wrath of God, betrayed and insulted by these deceitful consecrated persons.”
The Church must combat this evil, both inside and outside its walls and protect children “from ravenous wolves,” he said through disciplinary measures and civil and canonical processes.
The pope urged all Catholics to work to free the Church “from the plague of clericalism, which is the fertile ground for all these disgraces.”
He said, “The best results and the most effective resolution” will occur when the Church commits itself to “personal and collective conversion, the humility of learning, listening, assisting and protecting the most vulnerable.”
The pope also referred to a package of “best practices” formulated by 10 international organisations, guided by the WHO called, INSPIRE: Seven strategies for ending violence against children.
“Brothers and sisters, today we find ourselves before a manifestation of brazen, aggressive and destructive evil,” Pope Francis warned, adding, “The time has come, then, to work together to eradicate this evil from the body of our humanity by adopting every necessary measure already in force on the international level and ecclesial levels.” 
On behalf of the Church—the consecrated and the laity—the pope thanked those who serve faithfully and who feel dishonoured and discredited by the shameful conduct of some of their confrères. He thanked the vast majority of priests who are not only faithful to their celibacy, but find their ministry today “made even more difficult by the scandals of few (but always too many) of their confrères.”
The pope also thanked “the faithful who are well aware of the goodness of their pastors and who continue to pray for them and to support them.”
He said the Church must “rise above the ideological disputes and journalistic practices that often exploit, for various interests, the very tragedy experienced by the little ones” in order to “hear, watch over, protect and care for abused, exploited and forgotten children, wherever they are,” he said.
In his opening talk on February 21, Luis Cardinal Tagle told the some 190 cardinals, bishops and religious superiors from around the world, “People are rightly asking: ‘Have you, who are called to have the smell of the sheep upon you, not instead run away when you found the stench of the filth inflicted on children and vulnerable people you were supposed to protect, too strong to endure?’”
The archbishop of Manila was reported by Zenit as saying, “Our people need us to draw close to their wounds and acknowledge our faults if we are to give authentic and credible witness to our faith in the Resurrection. This means that each of us and our brothers and sisters at home must take personal responsibility for bringing healing to this wound in the Body of Christ and make the commitment to do everything in our power and capacity to see that children are safe, are cared for in our communities.”
The cardinal urged the setting aside of any hesitation and the “tendency that is part of worldly thinking that refuses to see and touch the wounds of others, which are Christ’s wounds in the wounded people.”
He cautioned against the temptation to choose between victim and perpetrator, pointing out that justice and forgiveness demands a focus on both. Victims need help to express their deep hurts and to heal from them, while justice must be served with the regards the perpetrators, who must also be helped to face the truth without forgetting that they have their own inner wounds.
Those who had gathered at the Vatican for the summit heard the harrowing, taped testimonies of five survivors, whose names were not disclosed, of sexual abuse, cover-up and rejection by Church officials.
One man from Chile expressed his pain when he was treated “as a liar” and told that “I and others were enemies of the Church,” when he reported he had been abused. He added, “You are physicians of the soul and yet, with rare exceptions, you have been transformed—in some cases—into murderers of the soul, into murderers of the faith,” CNS reported him as saying.
A woman from Africa testified that she was sexually and physically abused by a priest beginning when she was 15-years-old; he made her pregnant three times and each time forced her to have an abortion. “I was afraid of him and every time I refused to have sex with him, he would beat me,” she said.
A 53-year-old priest from Eastern Europe recounted that he continues to bear not only the wounds of the abuse he suffered as teenager but also the wounds of the rejection he experienced after reporting it to his bishop. “He attacked me without trying to understand me, and this hurt me,” CNS reported him as saying.
“What would I like to say to the bishops?” the priest asked. “That they listen to these people, that they learn to listen to the people who speak. I wanted someone to listen to me, to know who that man is, that priest, and what he does.”
A man from Asia attested that he was “abused over 100 times” and continues to endure “traumas and flashbacks” that cause him difficulty in living his life and connecting with other people.
He said that bishops and heads of religious orders must take concrete action to ensure that clergy who abuse are punished.
“I ask the bishops that they be clear on this matter because this is one of the time bombs occurring in the Church in Asia. If they want to save the Church, we have to work together and make the perpetrators give themselves up,” he said, adding, “As Jesus always said, we need to ‘be like children,’ not sexual abusers of children.”
In delivering her speech on February 23, Sister Veronica Openibo from Nigeria, said the Church was in a state of “crisis and shame,” adding that the sexual abuse crisis had “seriously clouded the grace of the Christ-mission.” 
She also cautioned bishops, particularly those in Asia and her native Africa, not to wave off the abuse crisis as a western problem, citing several personal experiences she confronted while counselling men and women who were abused, The Guardian newspaper reported.
Sister Openibo told the gathering, “This storm will not pass by.”
Outlining steps the Catholic Church can take to move toward true transparency and healing, CNS reported her suggesting beginning with the admission of wrongdoing and publishing “what has been done since the time of Pope John Paul II.”
“It may not be sufficient in the eyes of many, but it will show that the Church had not been totally silent,” she said.
“This is our year of favour. Let us courageously take up the responsibility to be truly transparent and accountable,” Sister Openibo said.

More from this section