- Trying to square the circle
The opening days of the Synod on the Family have revealed distinct differences of opinion between the participants. How can their commitment to church teaching be matched with compassion for those who struggle with it?
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The news that the Vatican is to set up a commission focused on safeguarding children and caring for victims of abuse is welcome. I would have been more impressed if it had been set up ten years ago as it certainly should. It was obvious by then that the clerical child sexual abuse crisis was not just isolated to one or two countries and it was not going to go away. No amount of defensive statements or words of apology were going to tackle the problem, prevent further abuse or help those survivors who needed justice and healing.
Now that the Vatican is setting up this commission my hope is that it will not turn out to be a false dawn. That we will see real, practical measures put in place to ensure the safety of children and bring the needed peace and justice to those who have been hurt.
If there is to be lasting progress then the right people have to be chosen as members of this commission. We have had too many decisions made within the Church by those whose priority has been the protection of the institution rather than the protection of children. We have had too many speak for the Church using words which have hurt rather than healed survivors. This must be an end to that.
On my wishlist for the membership would first be the Maltese Bishop Charles Scicluna. He has experience of handling abuse cases from around the world from his time as Promoter of Justice in the Vatican. During that time he showed a strong commitment to convincing bishops that they must deal properly with cases of abuse in their diocese. I believe he would bring this commitment to the commission.
Next would be Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, who has received worldwide praise from survivor organisations for the way in which he has dealt with the issue in his diocese. He has experience of helping adult survivors in large numbers of past cases. He has also set up procedures for co-operating with the civil authorities on past and current cases. He has developed strong child protection policies and practices in his diocese. He would bring this practical experience at diocesan level to the commission.
I also feel there should be a representative of survivors of clerical sexual abuse on the commission. No matter how many experts you have, no one knows better what is needed by survivors than themselves.
Finally, if this commission is to have credibility and achieve real change then it must be in a position to make bishops accountable. What is the point of this commission enacting new safeguarding policies or healing procedures if those charged with their implementation are in a position to ignore them without sanction? To achieve credibility the Church must ensure accountability. Without it there is no guarantee the mistakes of the past will not continue into the future and more innocents suffer.
Marie Collins, abuse survivor and campaigner
Read The Tablet's interview with Marie Collins when she addressed the first and only symposium on abuse in Rome.