By Linda Bordoni
Cardinal Rubén Salazar Gómez said no justification exists for not denouncing and forcefully confronting any abuse that presents itself within the Church.
He was speaking in the afternoon of Day One at the “Protection of Minors in the Church” Meeting in the Vatican.
The title of his presentation, “The Church in a moment of crisis - Facing conflicts and tensions and acting decisively”, reflected the theme of the day dedicated to “Responsibility”.
Salazar, who is the President of the Latin American Episcopal Council, introduced his speech pointing to clericalism as one of the roots in the clerical sex abuse crisis afflicting the Church.
Clericalism, he said, can give rise to a way in which this crisis has generally been responded to: “we encounter a mistaken understanding of how to exercise ministry that has led to serious errors of authority which have increased the severity of the crisis. This has a name: clericalism”.
And quoting from Pope Francis’ letter to God's people in August of last year, Scicluna said “To say “no” to abuse is to say an emphatic “no” to all forms of clericalism.”
These, he said, are “clear words that urge us to go to the root of the problem in order to face it”.
Salazar said therefore it is necessary to “unmask the underlying clericalism and bring about a change of mentality; in more precise terms”. This change, he said, is called conversion.
Calling on all bishops to embrace their responsibility to be meticulously coherent with words and actions, he said “The mentality behind our words must undergo a thorough revision so that our words and actions correspond to God's will in the Church at this time”.
At the core of his address was the conviction that “The fact that abuses occur in other institutions and groups can never justify the occurrence of abuses in the Church, because it contradicts the very essence of the ecclesial community and constitutes a monstrous distortion of the priestly ministry which, by its very nature, must seek the good of souls as its supreme end. There is no possible justification for not denouncing, not unmasking, not courageously and forcefully confronting any abuse that presents itself within our Church.”
The multiple but inescapable responsibilities of the bishop
Cardinal Salazar reflected on the Bishop's responsibilities first of all as pastor, and then as a member of the episcopal college under the supreme authority of the Church, pointing out that the bishop is not alone in dealing with this crisis as his ministry is a collegial one.
He also focused on the responsibility of the bishop towards his priests and consecrated persons, highlighting the bishop’s responsibility to abusive priests.
“As bishops, we must fulfil our duty to confront immediately the situation that arises from a denunciation. Every denunciation must immediately trigger the procedures that are specified both in canon law and in the civil law of each nation, according to the guidelines established by each episcopal conference. (…) Today it is clear to us that any negligence on our part can lead to canonical penalties, including removal from ministry, and civil penalties that can even lead to imprisonment for concealment or complicity” he said.
He spoke of the right of the accused to be heard and of how justice should be implemented concretely, highlighting the fact that the rights of the perpetrators must “never take precedence over the rights of the victims, of the weakest, of the most vulnerable”.
In conclusion, Salazar turned to the bishop’s responsibility to “God’s faithful holy people” saying that the Church must be close to the victims of abuse and its first duty is to listen to them.
He noted that one of the first sins committed at the beginning of the crisis was precisely not having listened with open hearts to those who charged that they had been abused by clerics.
“The responsibility of the bishop is very broad and covers many fields, but it is always inescapable” he said.
For more information on the Meeting on The Protection of Minors in the Church and for Cardinal Salazar's full address www.pbc2019.org