Churches in different countries around the world are taking the first Friday in Lent to mark a Day of Prayer for Victims and Survivors of Abuse. Dr Myriam Wijlens, a canon law professor at the University of Erfurt and a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, told Vatican News the work of the Commission has recently focused on “balancing Confidentiality, Transparency and Accountability”.
Dr Wijlens said a three-day seminar in December 2019 sought to clarify and sharpen questions outstanding, especially in the wake of the February 2019 summit of Church leaders on the protection of minors, as well as to “identify those areas and subjects that are in need of further research and propose possible ways and steps forward to respond to them.”
Progress is slow, notwithstanding what Wijlens described as a fundamental shift in attitude at the echelons of Church leadership that began two decades ago.
“The year 2001 marks the point where the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church began to give expression to an increased awareness that the subject of abuse of minors needed a radically different approach,” she said. “It marked a change in attitude and perspective: not the protection of the reputation of the Church, but the wellbeing and protection of minors must be the paramount interest.”
Dr Wijlens went on to say: “Looking back over the past twenty years we can see that it has not only been a learning process, but indeed it has been an ongoing learning process for all concerned. It requires careful reflections and thus an exchange of expertise and thoughts.”
The main outcome of the seminar was an agreement on the need for further study, especially of “balancing transparency and the provision of information in canonical processes with regard to rights of victims; rights of defense of accused; and the right of the faithful.”
“There was a need expressed to investigate how in different states around the world the rights of victims unfold in penal cases,” Dr. Wijlens said, “e.g. by providing a procurator or other assistant.” Wijlens went on to say, “”These and other issues are to be studied in particular from the perspective of ‘promoting and protecting the dignity of persons’ as that will allow the church to act with integrity.”
“Without integrity the missionary task of the church cannot be exercised credibly and successfully,” Dr. Wijlens said.