By Robin Gomes
A member of the Vatican’s Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors (PCPM) has urged the Catholic bishops of India to make child protection policy mandatory in all institutions under their jurisdiction.
Indian Sister Arina Gonsalves of the Congregation of the Religious of Jesus and Mary (RJM), has also called on them to set up a system to make all priests, diocesan and religious, comply with the policy.
“The importance of human formation for the seminarians and candidates to religious life in formation houses must be given to prevent pornography in presbyteries, seminaries and religious houses,” said the nun who is among 16 whom Pope Francis appointed as PCPM members in February 2018.
Sister Gonsalves addressed the Indian bishops on Monday, during the 34th plenary assembly of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), in Bengaluru, February 13-19.
Presenting a few case studies, she pointed to emotional and behavioural problems, abnormal sexual behaviour, psychic disorders, suicidal tendencies, drug abuse and traumatic stress disorders as some of the long-term effects on the victims of sexual abuse.
Archdiocese of Bombay
Before her Vatican assignment, Sister Gonsalves was a member of the expert group for child protection in the Archdiocese of Bombay. According to her, abuse of minors occurs in schools and even in orphanages.
The archdiocese set up a committee for the protection of minors in 2016 with the aim of raising awareness about the Protection of Children from the Sexual Offenses Act of 2012, and the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act of 2013.
At the time of her Vatican appointment, the nun had said her mission was to prevent violence and protect vulnerable children and adults by raising awareness about their abuse.
Among the several recommendations to the CBCI plenary, she advised the bishops to adopt zero tolerance towards sexual abuse; take necessary disciplinary action against offenders; respond with compassion and care for victims of sexual abuse; take care and address critical components of prevention; constitute an appropriate mechanism with necessary infrastructure and time-bound procedure to redress cases of sexual abuse; and not to shield any instance of abuse from prosecution by civil authorities.
The CBCI had issued a document, “Procedural norms for dealing with cases involving sexual abuses of minors,” in 2015.
Two years later, the bishops’ conference issued stringent standards to deal with clerical abuse of minors and enjoined dioceses and religious congregations to set up committees to deal with such cases.
Pope Francis has taken several measures in his stern stand against clerical sex abuse in the Church. Among these is the setting up of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors (PCPM) in March 2014, to advise him on effective policies for the protection of minors and vulnerable adults and also to offer support to local Churches in their protection policies.
Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna, Adjunct Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was delegated by Pope Francis to investigate several cases of sex abuse around the world.
Last year in February, he convened the historic meeting in the Vatican on the "Protection of Minors in the Church", which called for responsibility, accountability and transparency. The summit involved all the presidents of bishops’ conferences and those responsible for religious orders worldwide.
In May 2019, the Holy Father released his Motu proprio, "Vos estis lux mundi" (You are the light of the world), establishing new procedures for reporting abuse, harassment and violence, and ensuring that bishops and religious superiors are held accountable for their actions.
In December, he abolished “pontifical secrecy” for cases of sexual abuse and made the rule regarding the crime of child pornography even more strict. (Source: Matters India)