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Tomorrow sees the re-convening of bishops in Rome to consider marriage, divorce and sexuality. Last year’s meeting brought bitter disagreements out into the open and the rows have continued to simmer ever since
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Pope Francis has called the sexual abuse of minors the “shame of the Church”, making his strongest comments to date on the issue just hours before two Vatican officials told a UN committee in Geneva that the Holy See could not be held liable for the actions of abusive priests.
“[There are] so many scandals that I don’t want to mention individually, but we all know what they are,” the Pope said at his 16 January morning Mass at the Domus Sanctae Marthae chapel. “Scandals, some of which made [the Church] pay a lot of money: good! One must do that … The shame of the Church!” he said.
Without explicitly mentioning it, his reference to forced payouts made it all but certain he was talking about sexual abuse. It was the closest he has come to speaking forcefully on the scandal in any public forum during his first 10 months as Bishop of Rome.
On the same day that Francis made the comments at the Vatican, two of his representatives underwent five-and-half-hours of questioning by a UN committee in Geneva on how the Holy See has implemented and adhered to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Archbishop Silvano Tomasi SC, the Holy See’s permanent UN observer in Switzerland, and Bishop Charles Scicluna, until recently the Vatican’s chief prosecutor of sex-abuse cases, were repeatedly asked to explain the Holy See’s procedures and failures to protect minors from sexual predators among the Catholic clergy.
Both prelates reiterated the Holy See’s commitment to child protection, but said its effort to bring more “transparency and accountability” to its procedures against abusive priests was still a “work in progress”. In an interview for this week’s Tablet, Archbishop Tomasi said: “Yes, there has been wrong committed but we have to judge it in the context of the evolving of history.”
Bishop Charles Scicluna, the former official at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was emphatic that priests were not employees of the Holy See but were subject to local bishops who had responsibility for dealing with the abuse allegations against them. He told the UN committee that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the Holy See office to which bishops are obliged to submit such cases) only served as a “facilitator” by setting standards or norms.
Nonetheless, he later told reporters that Benedict XVI had laicised 384 priest-abusers between 2011 and 2012 – 202 by voluntary request and 182 who were forcibly removed.
Advocates for abuse victims, however, have continued to point out that the Vatican has not removed a single bishop for covering up abuse cases or for failing to follow its norms or procedures. The Holy See signed the CRC in 1990 and went before a review four years later.
It then refused to submit two subsequent reports for review until this past session.
Both Archbishop Tomasi and Bishop Scicluna said the Holy See was striving to be a model of “best practices” in dealing with sexual abuse of minors.
(See Elena Curti, pages 6-7.)