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European Day to End Child Sex Abuse is observed on or around Nov. 18. European Day to End Child Sex Abuse is observed on or around Nov. 18.   (©doidam10 - stock.adobe.com)

Card. O’Malley: Child sex abuse victims are key to effective policies

US Cardinal Sean O’Malley, president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors sent a message to a workshop on the occasion of the European Day to End Child Sex Abuse, Nov. 18.

By Robin Gomes

One in five women and one in thirteen men experience sexual abuse before their 18th birthday. At least sixty per cent of child sexual abuse victims/survivors never disclose their abuse.  The grim data by the World Health Organization (WHO), were cited by US Cardinal Sean O’Malley on the occasion of the European Day to End Child Sex Abuse on Thursday. 

The Capuchin cardinal who is president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors sent a message to Italian professor Ernesto Caffo, President of the non-profit hotline service Telefono Azzurro (Blue Telephone) and others participating in a hybrid International Symposium to mark the Nov. 18 European Day to End Child Sex Abuse.

Founded by Caffo in 1987, Telefono Azzurro supports the development and protection of children and adolescents from abuse and violence that may affect their well-being and stop them from reaching their full potential.

Efforts of the Council of Europe

Instituted by the Council of Europe, the annual day, marked on or around Nov. 18, was first observed in 2015.   The theme of this year’s European Day to End Child Sex Abuse is "Making the circle of trust truly safe for children".

Cardinal O’Malley, who is Archbishop of Boston, noted that the initiative of the Council of Europe has provided a forum to bring civil society, and governments together to focus and better align vital resources and heighten awareness of the problem of child sexual exploitation and abuse (CSEA).

Grim Church figures

After citing WHO figures, he pointed out that the most recent data on child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church is no less grim.  “In France, the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church (CIASE) estimated 216 000 children suffered sexual abuse in the Church from in the period from 1950 to 2020. In Australia, 40% of the child sexual abuse that took place in the period under review of the Royal Commission of Inquiry occurred in an area related to the Catholic Church.”

The president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors said we cannot allow our reaction to these statistics to obscure their purpose of assessing the measures taken by the Church to treat this scourge and of making all useful recommendations for the transformation of a failed system based on quantitative and qualitative analysis.

“We cannot repair what we do not recognize,” Cardinal O’Malley stressed. “We cannot restore a broken trust if we do not address the heart of the matter. This requires honest investigation, independent inquiry, and informed action,” he said underscoring the seriousness of the issue.

Learning from each other

He said the Church must also learn from the advances of civil society and academia in terms of scientific models of research for a more informed approach to its prevention strategies and protection policies, on the ground and online.

“Learning from each other,” he said, “we can become a Church and a society that puts the protection of children among the highest priorities.” This urged the creation of relationships of trust and cross-institutional support.

Church efforts

Cardinal O’Malley said that Pope Francis and the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors are convinced that the victims and survivors of child sexual abuse hold the key to helping us implement meaningful and effective policies and procedures. In his 2018 letter to the People of God on clerical sexual abuse in the Church and its cover-up, the cardinal said the Holy Father said “as time goes on, we have come to know the pain of many of the victims” and that the wounds they bear “never go away.”

The cardinal expressed satisfaction that the Church in Italy has instituted its 1st National Day of Prayer for Victims and Survivors on Nov. 18, coinciding with the European Day to End Child Sex Abuse.  He said the Day was established by Pope Francis through the commitment of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors as a public and visible recognition of victims of clerical sexual abuse and to promote awareness among all the baptized faithful, and non-believers as desired by the Holy Father in his Letter to the People of God.

18 November 2021, 13:36