By Alessandro Gisotti
February’s meeting on the protection of minors does not start “from scratch”, but it is "certainly an unprecedented event that aims to take urgent new steps forward". This is what Father Federico Lombardi, SJ, stresses in an article entitled "Towards the Bishops' meeting on the protection of minors" published in the latest issue of Civiltà Cattolica. The Jesuit Father warns that sometimes "one continues to be under the illusion that the problem is mainly a Western one, or an American or Anglophone one". In reality, "its presence, though at times hidden, could make dramatic eruptions in the future, and must not be overlooked ". For this reason, he warns that "we must look reality in the face".
Downplaying the issue of abuse is the wrong path forward
Sometimes, Fr. Lombardi writes, "even in Church circles, one hears that it is time to change the subject, that it is not right to give too much weight to this topic... But this is the wrong approach”. If the issue’s “various aspects are not dealt with in depth” he continues, “the Church will continuously find itself facing one crisis after another", the credibility of priests will be "tarnished" and, "above all, the heart of the Church’s mission to proclaim the Gospel and to provide education for children and young people will suffer".
Benedict XVI renewed canonical norms
Early on, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was already particularly committed to addressing the issue during the final phase of Pope John Paul II’s pontificate. This commitment was amplified once the German Cardinal was elected Pope. Benedict XVI launched a series of new "Norms concerning the most serious crimes" which were followed by the important Letter to Bishops’ Conferences around the world, in 2011, to help them prepare guidelines for the treatment of cases of sexual abuse of children by priests. These guidelines, writes Fr. Lombardi, "thus become the necessary reference for the conversion and renewal of the Church community, starting from the dramatic experience of abuse". Benedict XVI’s personal commitment in this dramatic event, he notes, is "also highlighted by his repeated meeting with victims throughout various Apostolic Journeys".
Pope Francis against sexual abuse, abuse of power, and abuse of conscience
Fr. Lombardi writes in Civiltà Cattolica that Pope Francis is following “the path traced by his predecessor” with determination. He too is “personally involved in meeting victims of sexual abuse”. Fr. Lombardi writes about the importance of instituting the new Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors in December 2013, chaired by Cardinal Sean O’Malley. This move came shortly after Pope Francis was elected. This Commission, according to the Jesuit’s fortnightly, has brought about three results: a model proposed as “guidelines”, training courses for newly appointed bishops, and a Day of Prayer dedicated to victims of abuse. Father Lombardi then puts emphasis on two documents that were approved by Pope Francis: the 2014 Rescriptum and the 2016 Motu Proprio. These are two documents which reinforce the accountability of Church authorities. The Letter to the People of God, dated August 20th 2018, is also particularly significant. He says Pope Francis now “no longer simply speaks of ‘sexual abuse’”, but also “of power and conscience”. Fr. Lombardi says Pope Francis strongly asks that, in order to face this scandal, all people of faith feel a joint responsibility towards the “synodal journey of the Church” and that “every form of clericalism be fought with decisiveness.”