Abuse summit day one: Pope calls for ‘concrete and effective’ action

(CNS photo/Evandro Inetti, pool)

The bishops also heard powerful testimony from victims on the first day of the summit

(Rome, Thursday, February 21, 2019) The highly anticipated meeting on child protection opened at the Vatican on Thursday morning, with powerful testimony from victims, one of whom told the bishops flatly, “You are the 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.”

The man who spoke those words was Juan Carlos Cruz, the Chilean victim Pope Francis had once accused of calumny. Cruz also had words of praise for Pope Francis’s turnaround in addressing the crisis in his native country. “I ask you, please collaborate with justice, because you have a special care for the victims, so that what is happening in Chile, that is, what the Pope is doing in Chile, be repeated as a model in other countries of the world,” Cruz said.

Not everyone takes so sanguine a view of Pope Francis’s efforts in Chile, but that is another matter. The other victims chose to remain anonymous, but their stories are no less harrowing than Cruz’s.

One story that participants heard was from a victim of a priest, who was abused from the age of fifteen. “I got pregnant three times and he made me have an abortion three times, quite simply because he did not want to use condoms or contraceptives,” she said. “At first I trusted him so much that I did not know he could abuse me. I was afraid of him, and every time I refused to have sex with him, he would beat me.”

The stories came from victims of different ages and sexes and states of life, from all around the world. “I was far more moved by what I heard this morning than I expected to be,” the Archbishop of Brisbane, Mark Coleridge, told journalists at the press briefing that followed the morning sessions.

Pope Francis, for his part, presented the participants with an unexpected list of 21 “points for reflection”. Francis distributed the list to the 190 participants from all around the world at the end of his own opening remarks. “The holy People of God look to us, and expect from us not simple and predictable condemnations, but concrete and effective measures to be undertaken,” Pope Francis said. “We need to be concrete.”

Though they were presented as conversation-starters, one journalist at the press briefing following the morning sessions noted that “reflection points” from the boss are rarely just that. Several of the suggestions are things that are already standard practice in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, and Ireland, as well as in many other places in the developed world.

“[These points for reflection] are a simple point of departure that came from you and now return to you,” Pope Francis told participants on Thursday morning. “They are not meant to detract from the creativity needed in this meeting.”

How they will affect the direction in which the meeting is to go, is something that remains to be seen. Day One, however, followed the programme, which included presentations during the morning sessions from the Archbishop of Manila, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, and from the adjunct secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Archbishop Charles Scicluna.

Archbishop Coleridge described Cardinal Tagle’s presentation to journalists gathered for the daily press briefing as a “meditation” and “not what I expected, but, better for that.” Archbishop Scicluna’s was “very different” more practical. “What we had from the two men,” Archbishop Coleridge explained, “was vision and tactics — and this was a way of saying that we need both.”

The full texts of all the presentations are available — shortly after delivery — at the meeting’s official website:

Below, please find the 21 points for reflection Pope Francis distributed to participants on Thursday morning.

  1. To prepare a practical handbook indicating the steps to be taken by authorities at key moments when a case emerges.
  2. To equip oneself with listening structures that include trained and expert people who can initially discern the cases of the alleged victims.
  3. Establish the criteria for the direct involvement of the Bishop or of the Religious Superior.
  4. Implement shared procedures for the examination of the charges, the protection of the victims and the right of defense of the accused.
  5. Inform the civil authorities and the higher ecclesiastical authorities in compliance with civil and canonical norms.
  6. Make a periodic review of protocols and norms to safeguard a protected environment for minors in all pastoral structures: protocols and norms based on the integrated principles of justice and charity so that the action of the Church in this matter is in conformity with her mission.
  7. Establish specific protocols for handling accusations against Bishops.
  8. Accompany, protect and treat victims, offering them all the necessary support for a complete recovery.
  9. Increase awareness of the causes and consequences of sexual abuse through ongoing formation initiatives of Bishops, Religious Superiors, clerics and pastoral workers.
  10. Prepare pathways of pastoral care for communities injured by abuses and penitential and recovery routes for the perpetrators.
  11. To consolidate the collaboration with all people of good will and with the operators of mass media in order to recognize and discern real cases from false ones and accusations of slander, avoiding rancor and insinuations, rumors and defamation (cf. Pope Francis’ address to the Roman Curia, 21 December 2018).
  12. To raise the minimum age for marriage to sixteen years.
  13. Establish provisions that regulate and facilitate the participation of lay experts in investigations and in the different degrees of judgment of canonical processes concerning sexual and / or power abuse.
  14. The right to defense: the principle of natural and canon law of presumption of innocence must also be safeguarded until the guilt of the accused is proven. Therefore, it is necessary to prevent the lists of the accused being published, even by the dioceses, before the preliminary investigation and the definitive condemnation.
  15. Observe the traditional principle of proportionality of punishment with respect to the crime committed. To decide that priests and bishops guilty of sexual abuse of minors leave the public ministry.
  16. Introduce rules concerning seminarians and candidates for the priesthood or religious life. Be sure that there are programs of initial and ongoing formation to help them develop their human, spiritual and psychosexual maturity, as well as their interpersonal relationships and their behavior.
  17. Be sure to have psychological evaluations by qualified and accredited experts for candidates for the priesthood and consecrated life.
  18. Establish norms governing the transfer of a seminarian or religious aspirant from one seminary to another; as well as a priest or religious from one diocese or congregation to another.
  19. Formulate mandatory codes of conduct for all clerics, religious, service personnel and volunteers to outline appropriate boundaries in personal relationships. Be specific about the necessary requirements for staff and volunteers and check their criminal record.
  20. Explain all information and data on the dangers of abuse and its effects, how to recognize signs of abuse and how to report suspected sexual abuse. All this must take place in collaboration with parents, teachers, professionals and civil authorities.
  21. Where it has not yet been in place, establish a group easily accessible for victims who want to report any crimes. Such an organization should have a certain autonomy with respect to the local ecclesiastical authority and include expert persons (clerics and laity) who know how to express the Church’s attention to those who have been offended by improper attitudes on the part of clerics.