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If you read just one speech from the abuse summit, make it this one

Pope Francis, cardinals and bishops attend a penitential liturgy during the abuse summit (CNS photo/Vatican Television)

Journalist Valentina Alazraki told the bishops what they needed to hear

(ROME — February 23rd, 2019) There’s one speech you need to read from the Saturday sessions of the Vatican’s child protection meeting — a day dedicated to the theme of transparency — and veteran Vaticanologist Valentina Alazraki of Mexico’s Noticieros Televisa delivered it during the afternoon session.

It was the last working session before Vespers and the special penitential liturgy, and it is not too much to say she nailed it.

Alazraki’s remarks were a frank challenge and a moral lesson that cut through the mystifying jargon that has dominated so much of the talk over the past three days, and she delivered them in words a child could understand.

“We journalists know that abuse is not limited to the Catholic Church,” Alazraki said, “but you must understand that we have to be more rigorous with you than with others, by virtue of your moral role.”

In case it was needed, she illustrated the point. “Stealing, for example, is wrong, but if the one stealing is a police officer it seems more serious to us, because it is the opposite of what he or she should do, which is to protect the community from thieves.”

Alazraki spoke of the right of the faithful — and the broad public — to know the truth, and to have it from those who are responsible for their safety and especially that of their children. “I would like you to leave this hall,” Alazraki explained, “with the conviction that we journalists are neither those who abuse nor those who cover up. Our mission is to assert and defend a right, which is a right to information based on truth in order to obtain justice.”

She explained the terms of the issue before the participants, and spelled out the stakes unsparingly:

If you are against those who commit or cover up abuse, then we are on the same side. We can be allies, not enemies. We will help you to find the rotten apples and to overcome resistance in order to separate them from the healthy ones. But if you do not decide in a radical way to be on the side of the children, mothers, families, civil society, you are right to be afraid of us, because we journalists, who seek the common good, will be your worst enemies.

That wasn’t a threat to the bishops, it was a promise: to them and to the public.

Introducing Valentina Alazraki to the hall, Fr. Federico Lombardi SJ noted that she has been on this beat for many years. When she started, Paul VI was Pope, and she has hardly missed a single papal trip since Pope St. John Paul II’s election (during whose pontificate she went to 100-104).

She’s seen it all, and she knows the score. You can be sure she knew the room she was addressing, when she said, “Behind the silence, the lack of healthy, transparent communication, quite often there is not only the fear of scandal, concern for the institution’s good name, but also money, compensation, gifts,” and graft.

That line appeared in the section of her speech concerning the notorious founder of the Legion of Christ, Fr. Marcial Maciel, who used the congregation he founded to create a veneer of respectability and provide a source of funding for the most grotesque immorality:

One need not forget that in the Legion there was a fourth vow according to which if a Legionaries saw something he was uncertain of regarding a superior, he could neither criticize much less comment about it. Without this censure, without this total concealment, had there been transparency, Marcial Maciel would not have been able, for decades, to abuse seminarians and to have three or four lives, wives and children, who came to accuse him of having abused his own children.

“I assure you,” she said, “that at the basis of that scandal, which did so much harm to thousands of people, to the point of tarnishing the memory of one who is now a saint, there was unhealthy communication.”

“The faithful,” Alazraki went on to say, “do not forgive the lack of transparency, because it is a new assault on the victims. Those who fail to inform encourage a climate of suspicion and incite anger and hatred against the institution.”

She told the bishops what they’d been doing wrong in concrete terms, frankly and forthrightly spoken, not in a spirit of condemnation, but of exhortation — and admonition. They needed to hear it. Here’s hoping they take the message to heart. Now, they have no excuse.

(All the speeches are available in English at www.pbc2019.org)