As head of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, along with some victims of clergy abuse, will be involved in the preparatory work for the meeting, the Vatican said. CNS photo

Abuse summit ‘critical’ for Church, Cardinal O'Malley says

  • November 28, 2018

VATICAN – The universal Church will face a critical juncture when Pope Francis meets with the world’s bishops to address the abuse and protection of minors, said Boston Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley as the Vatican named members of the organizing committee for the February conference.

“This a critical moment for the universal Church in addressing the sexual abuse crisis,” O’Malley said, and the Feb. 21-24 Vatican meeting “will be an important moment for developing a clear path forward for dioceses around the world.”

As head of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, O’Malley, along with some victims of clergy abuse, will be involved in the preparatory work for the meeting, the Vatican said.

Pope Francis named several Church leaders to be part of the organizing committee, including: Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago; Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai, India; Archbishop Charles J. Scicluna of Malta; and Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, president of the Centre for the Protection of Minors at the Pontifical Gregorian University and a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

The three-day meeting is not only “about keeping children safe from harm worldwide,” said Greg Burke, head of the Vatican press office, in a written statement Nov. 23. “Pope Francis wants Church leaders to have a full understanding of the devastating impact that clerical sexual abuse has on victims,” he said.

O’Malley said it is vital “to embrace and practice a commitment to zero tolerance, work for greater transparency, including the release of names of clergy accused of abuse, and encourage all religious orders to adopt a similar policy and cooperate with civil and legal authorities. Above all else, we must place the support and pastoral care of survivors first,” he said in a written statement.

O’Malley said the pontifical commission, as an advisory body to the Pope, proposed the global meeting for the world’s bishops. He said the commission has hosted meetings between survivors and groups of newly named bishops, and those meetings “have inspired our view that calling the bishops to Rome for a similar high-impact meeting would be very important in addressing the clergy abuse crisis globally.”

The meeting will include presidents of national bishops’ conferences around the world; heads of the Eastern Catholic churches; representatives of the Union of Superiors General and of the International Union of Superiors General; and top officials from several Vatican offices.

Speaking to the American online news site Crux, Cupich said that while Pope Francis understands very well the degree of suffering in the United States because of abuse, the Pope is calling a global meeting because “he understands this to be a global issue.”

“The Pope is seeking both a comprehensive understanding of past failings, as well as global solutions moving forward,” he said.

Cupich said all Church leaders must take “ownership for our failures fully in order to ensure they are not repeated.” 

He said the Pope sees safeguarding as part of his call for a change of culture, “that is, a reform in how we approach ministry for, in addition to being a crime, sexual abuse of minors by clerics is about the corruption of our ministry.”

Gracias told Crux in October that the February meeting “cannot be cosmetic” or superficial. “Either it will be successful, or it will be a disaster for the Church.”

Scicluna has assisted the Pope with several high-profile abuse investigation cases. He serves as adjunct secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and is president of the congregation’s board that reviews appeals filed by priests laicized or otherwise disciplined in sexual abuse or other serious cases.

He told America Magazine that the “main goals” of the meeting “are to make bishops realize and discuss together the fact that the sexual abuse of minors is not only an egregious phenomenon in itself and a crime, but it is also a very grave symptom of something deeper, which is actually a crisis in the way we approach ministry. Some call it clericalism, others call it a perversion of the ministry.”

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