By Linda Bordoni
The last speaker to take to the podium at the Meeting on “The Protection of Minors in the Church” was Valentina Alazraki, writer and journalist with long-standing experience in Vatican matters.
Alazraki, who is Mexican, has reported on papal activities since 1974, travelling on 100 of Pope Saint John Paul II’s 104 apostolic journeys as well as all those undertaken by Pope Benedict XVI and by Pope Francis.
She began her presentation, during the session dedicated to “Transparency”, explaining she had been invited to speak about communication, “in particular, about how transparent communication is indispensable to fight the sexual abuse of minors by men of the Church”.
“At first glance there is little in common between you, bishops and cardinals, and me, a lay Catholic without position in the Church, and also a journalist. However, we share something very strong: we all have a mother, we are here today because a woman begot us. Before you, I have perhaps one more privilege: I am first and foremost a mother. Therefore, I do not feel only as a representative of journalists, but also of mothers, families and of civil society. I want to share my experiences and my life, and - if I may - add some practical advice” she said.
Just as for a mother there are no first or second-class children, she said, there are no first and second-class children for the Church, underlining the fact that “Her seemingly more important children, as are you, bishops and cardinals (I dare not say the Pope), are no more so than any other boy, girl or young person who has experienced the tragedy of being the victim of abuse by a priest”.
Journalists are allies, not enemies
To be able to fulfill her mission to preach the Gospel, Alazraki said, the Church needs a moral guide; “coherence between what one preaches and what one lives is the basis of being a credible institution, worthy of trust and respect”, an institution that reports crimes that may have been committed and follows up with credible procedures.
This, is where journalists are called into play, she continued, observing that they are allies – and not enemies – helping the Church “find the rotten apples and to overcome resistance in order to separate them from the healthy ones” and seeking the common good.
“We journalists know that there are reporters who are more thorough than others, and that there are media outlets more or less dependent on political, ideological or economic interests. But I believe that in no case can the mass media be blamed for having uncovered or reported on the abuse” she said.
Pointing out that “Abuses against minors are neither rumours nor gossip: they are crimes”, Alazraki told those present she would like them “to leave this hall with the conviction that we journalist are neither those who abuse nor those who cover up. Our mission is to assert and defend a right, which is a right to information based on truth in order to obtain justice”.
Lack of communication is a form of abuse
Alazraki went on to describe lack of communication as another form of abuse warning the bishops that the more they fail to inform the mass media and thus, the faithful and public opinion, the greater the scandal will be.
Communicating, she said, “is a fundamental duty because, if you fail to do so you automatically become complicit with the abusers”.
Take the initiative
The journalist also invited the Church to be the first to provide information, in a proactive and not reactive way.
She observed that “In the age we live in” and with the prominence of social networks,” it is very difficult to hide a secret”, thus she said, “the Church has only one path: to concentrate on awareness and transparency, which go hand in hand”.
Invest in communications
Alazraki invited those present to learn from past lessons and not to repeat the same mistakes. She urged them to embrace transparency, to put the victims in the first place, listening to them and sharing their pain.
She told them it is alright to seek advice and encouraged them to “invest in communications in all your ecclesiastical structures, with highly qualified and experienced individuals in order to address the demands for transparency in today’s world” and she invited Church organizations to communicate better and in a timely manner.
Scandal of nuns and religious victims of sexual abuse by priests and bishops
Alazraki concluded her presentation by mentioning a different topic that, she says, puts us at the threshold of another scandal: that of nuns and women religious as victims of sexual abuse by priests and bishops. She noted it has been reported upon by the “Osservatore Romano” and acknowledged by Pope Francis himself.
“I would like that on this occasion the Church play offense and not defense, as has happened in the case of the abuse of minors” she said, “It could be a great opportunity for the Church to take the initiative and be on the forefront of denouncing these abuses, which are not only sexual but also abuses of power”.
I hope that after this meeting, she said, “you will return home and not avoid us, but instead seek us out. That you will return to your dioceses thinking that we are not vicious wolves, but, on the contrary, that we can join our forces against the real wolves”.
For more information on the Meeting on “The Protection of minors in the Church” and on Valentina Alazraki’s presentation www.pbc2019.org