By Andrea Tornielli
The Meeting on the “Protection of Minors” is destined to leave its mark. Even before the necessary and concrete indications are given regarding how to face the scourge of sexual abuse, the fact of increasing awareness throughout the Church of the dramatic and indelible consequences of abuse will have consequences.
The voices of children and young people, the helpless victims of these horrific acts of violence, will not remain unheard. Their cry is destined to break the barrier of silence that has stood in the way of understanding for too long.
Echoing the personal witness of the last two Popes, who met regularly with survivors, listened to them, wept and prayed with them, the first objective of the Meeting is to increase awareness that the abuse of minors by clergy and religious is an abominable act. An act that pierces the hearts of children entrusted by their parents to priests to educate them in the faith. It is not primarily a question of laws and norms, or of bureaucratic quibbles or statistics. It is about listening to the victims, trying to share their painful drama, making their devastating wounds our own. What is needed is a change of mentality so that no one pretends not to see; or to cover up; to downplay, ever again.
For the first time, the issue will be considered at a global level, according to different experiences and cultures. On Day One, the main theme will be that of the “responsibility” of Bishops in their pastoral, spiritual and juridical tasks. Day Two will address "accountability" and discuss solutions to be adopted in accordance with Canon Law to evaluate cases in which pastors have failed in their responsibilities and acted with negligence. Day Three will be dedicated to “transparency”, in the internal procedures of the Church, towards civil authorities but, above all, towards the People of God. Their contribution to making the places frequented by minors safer is indispensable. Pope Francis will conclude the Meeting on Sunday, after Holy Mass celebrated in the Sala Regia.
Before anything else, the “Protection of Minors in the Church” Meeting in the Vatican is an ecclesial event, a dialogue between pastors in communion with the Successor of Peter. That is why prayer, accompanied by listening to victims, will mark every step of the encounter. The first three days of work will culminate in a Penitential Liturgy: in the face of such a serious and abominable sin, believers are called to ask humbly for forgiveness for the wound inflicted on the Body of the Church and her commitment to witness to the Gospel.
This Meeting in the Vatican is the latest step taken by the Church in a journey that began nearly twenty years ago, with the introduction of stricter and more effective laws to combat the scourge of abuse. As verified by recent reports, these procedures have made it possible to reduce drastically the number of cases. The vast majority of accusations concern cases dating back many years, and regard abuse that took place before the new rules came into force.
With the “Protection of Minors in the Church” Meeting in the Vatican, the Church is attempting to provide guidelines to its own leadership and communities. But she is also offering a painful witness and a precise commitment to the whole of society. Because, as the statistics of minors abused in the world indicate, the protection of minors is an issue that concerns everyone.