ROME (EWTN NEWS/CNA)—An international symposium addressing clerical sex abuse concluded on Feb. 9 with the announcement of a new Internet-based Center for Child Protection.
“If the Church is now once again taking on its task of being a sign and sacrament of God’s love, and putting the protection and promotion of the life of children at the very center of its interests, then such actions and work are a decisive contribution towards evangelization,” said Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich at the press conference in Rome.
The global “e-learning center” provides online training for professionals involved in responding to the sexual abuse of minors.
It’s being coordinated by the Ulm University in Germany, the Archdiocese of Munich and Rome’s Gregorian University, hosts of the “Towards Healing and Renewal” conference that took place Feb. 6-9.
The effort has an initial budget of $1.6 million dollars to cover its first three years from 2012 to 2014. The training package is delivered in modules, takes a total of 30 hours to complete and is available in four languages: English, Spanish, Italian and German.
“As a clinician who has some experience in medical education, I know that these e-learning tools are very strong tools if you really want to spread out knowledge,” professor Jörg Fegert of Ulm University’s Department for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Psychotherapy told CNA.
He explained how the German society felt stung into action following a high-profile clerical abuse scandal in 2010. Cardinal Marx recalled it as “the worst and most bitter year” of his life.
In the following months, the federal government in Germany set up a dedicated telephone center staffed by psychotherapists to survey the extent of sexual abuse across the country.
“People were free to phone and tell their story,” explained Fegert, “and they were asked to give advice to the government (about) what we should do in Germany to make a better environment for children.”
The findings suggested that 57% of abuse took place within families and 27% in institutional settings, such as churches, schools or sports clubs. Of those institutions, 38% were Catholic, 12% Protestant and 49% secular.
Those behind the new “Center for Child Protection” hope it can be used in ways beyond the confines of the Catholic Church.
“The Internet gives us the possibility to reach people all over the world,” said Fegert. He hopes to provide both “top down” advice online, while enabling a “bottom up” development in different countries, “where people can adapt the programs to their own cultural environments.”
“Without doubt, the debate over the sexual abuse of children and adolescents has greatly damaged the Church,” concluded Cardinal Marx.
“But if we try to understand these events also on a spiritual level, then they can be a major impetus towards conversion and renewal, and so towards rebuilding credibility, step by step.”
The Center for Child Protection can be found at Elearning-childprotection.
Feb. 6 story:
Pope Benedict XVI called upon bishops to respond in a “Christ-like” manner to clerical abuse as part of a “profound renewal” of the Church.
His Feb. 6 comments marked the opening of an international symposium in Rome to discuss the issue. The Pope’s wishes were expressed in a communiqué from Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican’s secretary of State.
“He (the Pope) asks the Lord that, through your deliberations, many bishops and religious superiors throughout the world may be helped to respond in a truly Christ-like manner to the tragedy of child abuse,” the statement said.
“As His Holiness has often observed, healing for victims must be of paramount concern in the Christian community, and it must go hand in hand with a profound renewal of the Church at every level.”
The “Towards Healing and Renewal” symposium is being organized by Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University and runs Feb. 6-9. Delegates have arrived come from about 110 bishops’ conferences, along with the superiors of more than 30 religious orders.
The message from Cardinal Bertone said that the Pope “supports and encourages every effort to respond with evangelical charity to the challenge of providing children and vulnerable adults with an ecclesial environment conducive to their human and spiritual growth.”
Pope Benedict urged symposium participants to “continue drawing on a wide range of expertise” to promote “a vigorous culture of effective safeguarding and victim support” throughout the Church.
All bishops’ conferences around the world have until May 2012 to draw up guidelines for dealing with cases of abuse. Those guidelines will then have to be approved by the Vatican. Many countries already have approved guidelines in place.
The symposium was opened on the evening of Feb. 6 with an address from Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. His department has handled all alleged cases of abuse since 2001, when his predecessor, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, was in charge of the congregation.
“The Pope has had to suffer attacks by the media over these past years in various parts of the world, when he should receive the gratitude of us all, in the Church and outside it,” Cardinal Levada told delegates.
He outlined how then-Cardinal Ratzinger centralized and streamlined the Vatican’s procedures for dealing with allegations of abuse, while also significantly increasing penalties for those found guilty.
Cardinal Levada also explained how since his election to the papacy in 2005 Pope Benedict XVI has made a priority of implementing best practices for handling abuse allegations around the globe.
The Pope was also praised by Cardinal Levada for meeting with abuse victims during his pastoral visits to England, Malta, Germany, Australia and the United States.
“I think is it hardly possible to overestimate the importance of this example for us bishops, and for us priests, in being available to victims for this important moment in their healing and reconciliation.”
Added Feb. 8:
“Even those of us who have been dealing with this issue for decades recognize that we are still learning and need to help each other find the best ways to help victims, protect children and form the priests of today and tomorrow to be aware of this scourge and to eliminate it from the priesthood,” Cardinal Levada told the conference’s opening session on Feb. 7.
Cardinal Levada explained that the Vatican already has robust systems in place for dealing with claims of abuse. In recent years, he said, this has been largely due to the actions of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
In 2001, Pope John Paul II introduced the directive Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela, swhich ranked abuse as one of the Church’s most serious crimes. It also raised the legal age for a minor being declared a minor from 16 to 18 and sent all abuse cases to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
The cardinal revealed that over the past decade Pope John Paul’s reforms have resulted in 4,000 cases being sent to Rome.
Pope Benedict XVI significantly enhanced those provisions in May 2010, Cardinal Levada added. Those changes included increasing the time frame for bringing cases against alleged perpetrators by 10 years, creating a fast track for dismissing guilty priests from the priesthood, and adding the downloading or distribution of child pornography to the list of grave offenses.
The May 2012 deadline for Catholic religious bodies to submit guidelines for dealing with abuse is the next stage in the Church’s response, Cardinal Levada said. He praised those bishops’ conferences that already have approved guidelines in place, singling out Canada, the U.S., Brazil, Scotland, England and Wales, Ireland, Germany, Belgium, France, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
Cardinal Levada said that his department’s 10 years of experience in dealing with abuse cases had convinced the staff of the “inadequacy of an exclusively canonical (or canon law) response” and the “necessity of a truly multifaceted response.”
That response needs to involve “the healing of victims,” creating programs for the protection of children and young people, bishops being involved in educating their flocks on their responsibility for the youth, and bishops ensuring proper formation of their priests and seminarians.
Cardinal Levada finished his remarks by talking about the importance of cooperating with civil authorities. He reminded the delegates that “the sexual abuse of minors is not only a crime in canon law, but is also a crime that violates criminal laws in most civil jurisdictions.”
Although civil law differs from country to country, the cardinal said the “Church has an obligation” to report allegations to the appropriate authorities.
In doing so, Church officials must “avoid any compromise of the sacramental internal forum,” such as the seal of confession, “which must remain inviolable.”
Feb. 9 update
The Vatican’s sex crimes prosecutor says the Church should fight against a culture of silence as it combats the “sad phenomenon” of sexual abuse in society.
“The teaching of Blessed John Paul II that truth is at the basis of justice explains why a deadly culture of silence or ‘omertà’ is in itself wrong and unjust,” said Msgr. Charles Scicluna, promoter of justice at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, on Feb. 8.
“Omertà” is a term that describes the code of silence practiced by members of the mafia.
He explained to delegates how the best guide on the Church’s “moral and legal duty” to seek the truth when allegations are made can found in a 1994 address given by Blessed Pope John Paul II to the Vatican’s highest appeal court, the Roman Rota. On that occasion the late Pope outlined five principles that should inform the actions of those investigating allegations of abuse.
The first was that “justice is at times called truth,” which means that a culture of silence has to be rejected. Msgr. Scicluna said this principle requires the facts to be established “with a spirit of fairness” to both the alleged victim and the accused, as guided by the Church’s canon law.
“Other enemies of the truth are the deliberate denial of known facts and the misplaced concern that the good name of the institution should somehow enjoy absolute priority to the detriment of legitimate disclosure of crime,” he explained.
Pope John Paul’s second principle was that justice based on truth “evokes a response from the individual’s conscience.”
“The acknowledgment and recognition of the full truth of the matter in all its sorrowful effects and consequences,” explained Mgsr. Scicluna, “is at the source of true healing for both victim and perpetrator.”
While experts in psychology could explain how and why perpetrators develop “coping mechanisms” such as denial, there is “no substitute” for “the liberating effect on a cleric’s conscience,” which comes from the “full, humble, honest and contrite acknowledgment of his sin, his crime, his responsibility for the harm he has caused to the victims, to the Church, to society.”
Similarly, there is a “radical need” for victims to be “heard attentively, to be understood and believed, to be treated with dignity as he or she plods on the tiresome journey of recovery and healing,” he said.
Pope John Paul II’s third maxim was that “truth generates confidence in the rule of law, whereas disrespect for the truth generates distrust and suspicion.”
He praised the late Pope for promulgating the 2001 motu proprio Sacramentorum Sanctitatis, which updated and strengthened the Church’s laws for dealing with allegations and incidents of abuse.
He explained how the document had raised clerical abuse to the level of a delicta graviora (grave crime) in Church law and, in doing so, took the issue to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. These rules have since been revised and strengthened by Pope Benedict XVI, he said.
“The law is clear,” said Mgsr. Scicluna, but “the faithful need to be convinced that ecclesial society is living under the governance of law.”
It is “not good enough,” he said, for the promotion of “peace and order in the community” that the law is simply clear, but also that “people need to know that the law is being applied.”
The fourth principle proposed by Pope John Paul in his 1994 address was the duty of the Church “towards the common good.” In alleged cases of abuse, said Msgr. Scicluna, the Church would include the safety of children as a “paramount concern,” which is essential to any understanding of “the common good.”
He told delegates that this included a “duty to cooperate with state authorities.”
“Sexual abuse of minors is not just a canonical delict or a breach of a code of conduct internal to an institution, whether it be religious or other. It is also a crime prosecuted by civil law,” he said.
The fifth and final principle of Pope John Paul II was that respect for the Church’s guidelines should not be distorted by “pastoral” concerns.
Mgsr. Scicluna recalled how in 1994 Pope John Paul had warned of “the temptation to lighten the heavy demands of observing the law in the name of a mistaken idea of compassion and mercy.”
The 2011 investigation into lapses of child safety in the Irish Diocese of Cloyne found that the former vicar general of the diocese had not upheld the Irish Church’s 1996 guidelines on mandatory reporting, as, he felt, they compromised his “Christian duty of pastoral care.”
Mgsr. Scicluna again quoted Pope John Paul’s advice from 1994: that “if the rights of others are at stake, mercy cannot be shown or received without addressing the obligations that correspond to these rights.”
He concluded his address to the symposium by stating his belief that “the honest quest for truth and justice is the best response we can provide for the sad phenomenon of the sexual abuse of minors by clerics.”