Participants attend a meeting sponsored by the Vatican's Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life in Rome June 13, 2019. The dicastery brought together representatives of lay movements and associations to review child protection policies.) CNS photo/courtesy Dicastery for Laity, Family and Lif

Abuse battle expands to lay movements

By  Junno Arocho Esteves, Catholic News Service
  • June 25, 2019

VATICAN CITY -- The Vatican has expanded its fight against sex abuse in the Church by giving all lay movements and associations a December deadline to submit formal guidelines and protocols for reporting and preventing cases of abuse.

Updated 2019-06-27:
Changed headline and made various minor changes throughout.

Cardinal Kevin J. Farrell, prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life, delivered the message to close to 100 representatives of Catholic associations and movements at a meeting June 13 on abuse prevention and procedures for reporting and handling allegations.

While much of the Church’s recent focus has been on clerical sexual abuse and the accountability of bishops, the Vatican is also making child protection a priority for new movements and lay associations.

Lay organizations that receive official Vatican recognition were told in May 2018 to draft abuse guidelines. Many of them either failed to respond or submitted inadequate protocols, Farrell said.

Although Catholics in some parts of the world think holding more meetings about the abuse crisis shows the Church has a “fixation” or “an unhealthy obsession” with scandal,  Farrell said that is false.

“It is the sexual abuse of power (and) of conscience that is an evil, an unhealthy obsession, a real manipulation, that suffocates and frustrates even the best pastoral plans, obscuring the good that the Church accomplishes,” he said.

Developing protocols is only part of the process of “purging” the culture of abuse within the Church, he said. The Church also needs a “change of mentality” to eradicate the sense of “taboo” that often led survivors of abuse to keep quiet and caused many laymen and laywomen to look the other way.

Philip Milligan, head of the dicastery’s legal office, said lay groups must create “clear pathways for reporting abuse.”

Lay movements and associations, he said, have six months to “make sure that at every level of your movement’s apostolate and its community life, these pathways for reporting are clear, are known and are staffed with competent people.”

Lay movements and associations are obliged to comply with state, civil and Church law on reporting abuse cases to police and to Church officials, he said.

Milligan also insisted the groups understand who is considered a “vulnerable adult” when it comes to abuse.

Seemingly “consensual sexual activity between adults can, because of the state of mind or the situation of one of the persons, actually be a situation of sexual abuse,” Milligan said. Such abuse, whether committed by a cleric or a lay person, is punishable in canon law.

Linda Ghisoni, undersecretary for laity at the dicastery, read out the testimonies of three anonymous members of lay movements who suffered abuse and were further harmed by their group’s sense of “omerta,” a term that refers to the Mafia’s code of silence.

She said lay movements, which have great influence on members’ identity, formation, growth and freedom, must have clear rules and regulations to prevent abuse and allow members to report without fear of retribution or exclusion.

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