By Andrea Tornielli
There are excessive media expectations in view of the upcoming meeting called by Pope Francis on the subject of protecting minors and vulnerable adults, as if it were an event halfway between a council and a conclave. These expectations risk overshadowing the ecclesial significance of a meeting among Pastors, among Presidents of Episcopal Conferences of the whole world who, together with the Successor of Peter, will reflect on the theme of abuse.
What needs to be emphasized, above all, is the universality that is typical of the Catholic Church and that reverberates in the meeting. The presence of bishops from all over the world, called together for the first time to address this painful plague which has been, and is, a source of enormous suffering for victims and of counter-witness to the Gospel, will help to increase everyone's awareness of the seriousness of the crisis. The phenomenon of the abuse of minors, the horrific experiences of the victims, the procedures to be applied in the face of accusations, and the indications to ensure a safe environment for children and young people, will thus be examined from a perspective that is not solely European or American.
The purpose of the meeting is very specific: to ensure that everyone taking part in it can return to their own country being absolutely clear about what must (and must not) be done with regard to addressing these cases. Namely, what steps must be taken to protect the victims, with respect for the truth and the people involved, in order to ensure that no more cases are stonewalled or covered up.
Obviously, it will be necessary to await the dialogue among the bishops, and the proposals that will be put forward, in order to better clarify or specify some particular aspects of the legislation in force on the matter. With the awareness that this is not a "year-zero" in the fight against abuse, because in the last sixteen years many significant and concrete steps have been taken. The rules on how to respond have been established and strengthened by the will of recent Popes. In some cases, these can be defined as "emergency responses" because of the speed of action they allow against those who are guilty of this crime.
But norms, laws, codes, and procedures that are increasingly perfected and precise, are not enough; they can never be enough if the mentality and the hearts of those who are called to apply them do not change. For this reason, Pope Francis continues to point out the path of conversion. For this reason, it is important that each of the participants in the meeting listen to the testimonies of surviving victims, and take the witness of Benedict XVI and his Successor as an example. Both of them, in the last ten years and in various parts of the world, have met with victims, listened to them, and wept with them, sharing their suffering.
In his recent speech to the Roman Curia, Pope Francis reaffirmed that even a single case of abuse would be "something itself monstrous". Then he added that the February meeting will serve as an attempt "to make past mistakes opportunities for eliminating,” the scourge of abuse, “not only from the body of the Church but also from that of society”.