Pope Francis arrives in Ireland this morning for two-day visit to the World Meeting of Familes that is taking place in the shadow of the scandal of clerical sex abuse.
Martin Bashir, the BBC's religious affairs editor, said on the BBC's Today programme on Radio 4 the church had "radically altered" since Pope John Paul II visited the country nearly four decades ago. Mass attendance was down to 40 per cent and the visit is being overshadowed by the sex abuse of children by clergy.
Meanwhile, four high profile safeguarding experts connected with the Vatican’s Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors backed the Bishop of Portsmouth’s call for an Extraordinary Synod in response to the clerical sex abuse crisis in the Church.
Professor Gabriel Dy-Liacco, a psychotherapist, who is a current member of the PCPM, described the proposal an “an excellent” idea.
The father of five, who is based in the Philippines, gave a presentation at the World Meeting of Families’ first ever session on safeguarding on Friday.
On the proposal for an Extraordinary Synod, he recognised it could be a long process, but said it would bring about “concrete solutions or resolutions that bind”.
He explained that his work so far had been “painstakingly” slow because he was dealing with church leadership one by one. A synod, he said, could “help speed that up” with resolutions from the synod imposed on bishops’ conference collectively.
Baroness Sheila Hollins, a former member of the PCPM, moderated the safeguarding session at WMOF2018, replacing Cardinal Sean O’Malley, who withdrew last week in order to concentrate on allegations of inappropriate behaviour at St John’s seminary in the archdiocese of Boston.
She too agreed that Bishop Philip Egan’s suggestion was “a good idea”.
Barbara Thorp, a former head of the Office for Pastoral Support and Child Protection in Boston, said there needed to be strong action from the bishops and the Holy See to implement change.
“It is clear that it has to be from the top,” she said and agreed this this could take the form of a synod.
“We would like to see the Holy See itself to implement a robust child protection programme, and for the College of Cardinals, the Roman Curia and all who work in the diplomatic corps to have the same kind of safeguarding training and the same codes of conduct and background screening.”
These, she said, were all pieces of child protection that were necessary to keep kids safe and must be modelled at the highest level of the church.
However, Irish clerical abuse survivor Marie Collins sounded a note of caution. “The synod is a very good idea, but these synods take a long time. The last thing I would want to see is this issue being kicked down the road any further. We are decades on now – we can’t be talking about this for another number of years before anything is done,” she stressed.
Professor Gabriel Dy-Liacco warned that there was a need to change the culture in the church because without change the problems around safeguarding would continue.
One of the necessary reforms highlighted by Marie Collins is the use of the ‘Papal Secret’ in canon law trials. “In a criminal trial, the victim is entitled to disclosure but not in a canon law trial because it is held in secret. My own abuser went through a canon law trial and I didn’t even hear about the trial until a year later. The victim wasn’t present or asked to give evidence.”
She said the PCPM had agreed that the Pontifical Secret should not be used in clerical abuse trials in canon law because “it is unjust to the victim”.
Having hit out at the curial resistance to the safeguarding proposals put forward by the PCPM, specifically the blocking of the accountability tribunal, Marie Collins had a strong message for Pope Francis.
“I think at this point, the Pope really needs to face down this resistance and if it means removing people in high office then that is what he must do. He has got powers over and above everybody else. He can no longer countenance this sort of resistance.”
She warned that every day that goes by, and safety is not properly imposed and those who would protect abusers are not properly dealt with, and “more children are being harmed when they don’t need to be harmed. So, the point is, it is time that the Pope actually faces down this resistance and takes strong action.”
She also questioned why the successful policy of zero tolerance adopted by the US church was not in place in every country in the world. “We have the template, they don’t need to reinvent the wheel, bring it in,” she urged bishops’ conferences and added, “Every child is precious; how well they are protected or how vulnerable they are allowed to be by the church should not depend on where they live.”
The Tablet at WMOF2018
The Tablet is at the World Meeting of Families. Come and say "hello" – the main exhibition area - stand 91