18 December 2018, The Tablet

Church credibility dependent on comprehensive response to clergy sex abuse

'Absent of a comprehensive and communal response..the very credibility of the Church to carry on the mission of Christ will be in jeopardy'

Church credibility dependent on comprehensive response to clergy sex abuse

Pope Francis is pictured with officials representing the US Conference of Catholic Bishops at the Vatican Sept. 13. The meeting came as the US church was responding to the sexual abuse crisis
Photo: CNS photo/Vatican Media

The Church’s credibility is under threat unless a collective response to clerical sexual abuse is found, organisers of a summit on abuse have told bishops.  

A letter from organisers of Pope Francis’ February 2019 summit on abuse urge those attending the forthcoming gathering to ensure they meet with victims before they come to Rome. 

The meeting of the Presidents of Bishops Conferences from across the world was called by the Pope in the wake of abuse scandals and is aimed at providing a coordinated, international plan for a global problem. 

It also marks an end to end piecemeal, localised responses to a crisis which, for years, was talked about by senior Church figures as a United States or Irish problem. 

“Absent of a comprehensive and communal response, not only will we fail to bring healing to victim survivors, but the very credibility of the Church to carry on the mission of Christ will be in jeopardy throughout the world,” the organisers write in a letter sent to the 180 participants taking part in the 21-24 February meeting, most of whom are leaders of local episcopal conferences.

“The first step must be acknowledging the truth of what has happened. For this reason, we urge each episcopal conference president to reach out and visit with victim survivors of clergy sex abuse in your respective countries prior to the meeting in Rome, to learn first-hand the suffering that they have endured.” 

The letter goes on to call on the bishops to face the issues with “solidarity, humility, and penitence to repair the damage done” while “sharing a common commitment to transparency, and holding everyone in the Church accountable.”

The question of episcopal accountability has come to the fore following the case of ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who rose up the Church’s ranks despite complaints being made of sexual misconduct. And, this month, the Emeritus Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis, John Nienstedt, was told he could not exercise any public ministry in his archdiocese after allegations of sexual misconduct were levelled against him.

The organisers of the summit include the Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago, Blasé Cupich, the Cardinal Archbishop of Bombay, Oswald Gracias, the Archbishop of Malta, Charles Scicluna and Jesuit priest Fr Hans Zollner. 

Archbishop Scicluna, who combines his pastoral role with being the Pope’s point man for abuse cases in the Vatican, is the most credible figure in the church hierarchy when it comes to handling this issue. And Fr Zollner, who sits on the Pope’s child protection commission and runs the Centre for Child Protection in Rome, has travelled the world talking to bishops about how to improve their child protection protocols. 

The bishops have also been instructed to fill out a questionnaire ahead of the meeting in order to help “share opinions constructively and critically as we move forward, to identify where help is needed to bring about reforms now and in the future, and to help us get a full picture of the situation in the Church.” 

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