Irish abuse victim Marie Collins talks during a press conference in downtown Rome Feb. 7. Collins is attending a four-day symposium, "Toward Healing and Renewal," at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. The symposium aims to prevent sexual abuse of minors by the Catholic clergy. CNS photo/Tony Gentile, Reuters

Forgiveness sought for those who protected abusers

By  Carol Glatz and Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service
  • February 8, 2012

ROME - Cardinal Marc Ouellet led a penitential vigil to show contrition for the sexual abuse of children by priests and for the actions of Catholic officials who shielded the perpetrators from justice Feb. 7.

Ouellet, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops, presided over the vigil during a week-long symposium attended by representatives of 110 bishops’ conferences and 30 religious orders. The Feb. 6-9 conference, “Toward Healing and Renewal,” launched a global initiative aimed at improving efforts to stop clerical sexual abuse and better protect children and vulnerable adults. It was held at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University and is supported by the Vatican Secretariat of State and several other Vatican offices.

During the penitential vigil, held in Rome’s St. Ignatius Church, a text was read that is “very profound, clear and explicit,” said Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, a licensed psychologist and psychotherapist and one of the symposium organizers.

Seven individuals from the Church who represent groups who have been “guilty or negligent” asked for forgiveness from God and victims, while an abuse victim was next to Jesus’ cross and asked “for the strength to pardon” the perpetrators who were protected and leaders who were negligent in acting on reports of abuse.

Marie Collins, an Irish survivor of clerical sex abuse, said one of the reasons that abuse victims are still so hurt and angered is that, “despite apologies for the actions of the abusers, there have been few apologies for the protection given them by their superiors.”

“There seems to be a lack of penalty for any of these men in leadership who deliberately or negligently covered up for abusers, allowing them to continue to abuse unhindered,” she said.

She said “the most healing thing that could possibly happen” to her and many survivors is to hear Church leaders ask forgiveness for the protection of abusers.

“We have had apologies, but forgiveness is a part of Christianity, a part of the Catholic Church” that is so important, she said.

Zollner said there are conflicting attitudes in the Church about the abuse crisis.

“There are forces who resist, and there are people who work together for the better, and this is our goal here: that we unite the forces who want to work for betterment,” for the prevention of abuse and protection of the vulnerable, he said.

After the conference, the Gregorian University and other institutions will launch an e-learning centre — the Centre for the Protection of Children — which will offer online resources in five languages.

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