This Register Symposium is not a physical conference, but a written collection of shared reflections from independent contributors with specialized knowledge regarding the clergy sexual abuse crisis. The nine experts have been asked to reflect on the root causes of the problem, and the most effective path forward for the Church.
The two principal actions I would like to see at the upcoming meeting in Rome are a commitment to implementing consistency in safeguarding policies and the participants and public being made aware of what accountability procedures are in place to deal with negligent Church leaders.
The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors drew up a guidance template on the writing of safeguarding policies, and it was completed in 2016. The intention was that it would be provided to all episcopal conferences with the strong recommendation that they use it when writing their own safeguarding documents or, if they already had a policy, they would review it in light of the template and make any necessary adjustments to bring that up to the recommended standard.
The commission felt that if this was done it would bring consistent best practice and a basic good standard to all safeguarding policies in the Church worldwide while allowing each to add their own local stamp to any document produced.
The commission, through Cardinal Seán O’Malley, discussed this template with Pope Francis, and he agreed the initiative should go forward. However, for reasons out of the commission’s control, it was not circulated; instead, it was placed on the commission’s Vatican website as a resource that could be used by episcopal conferences if they wished.
I feel this document, drawn up by lay and Church experts, should be translated into the necessary languages and a copy given to each episcopal conference principal attending the symposium. They should then make a formal commitment to bring their guidelines into line with its recommendations — or if they do not have a policy, to write one including its procedures for best practice. This would bring consistency across the Church in its safeguarding measures.
When I spoke with the Pope in August in Dublin, I asked him about accountability of Church leadership. He explained to me that his motu proprio “As a Loving Mother” was being implemented.
Having the global leaders together in Rome would be an excellent opportunity to make clear to them the consequences for any leader shown not to have dealt appropriately with cases of abuse, particularly any protection of a perpetrator.
The measures in place to investigate, judge and sanction any negligent bishop should be set out clearly for the participants. They must be left in no doubt as to the fact that these procedures are in place and being implemented.
The laity have very high expectations that they will see concrete actions ensuing from this meeting. My fear is that this summit will end with no firm measures announced. This is why I would like to see my two actions, which I have explained, be considered.
If it could be shown that the bishops around the world had made a commitment to incorporate best practice, as recommended by the experts on the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, into their safeguarding policies and see a clear explanation of what accountability measures are in place and being implemented, it would be a positive move forward.
Another disappointment for those investing so much hope in this meeting will be a disaster for the Church.
Marie Collins, a survivor of sexual abuse by clergy, served on the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.