Safeguarding Commission Member: Bishops’ Role in Crisis Must Be Acknowledged

‘Create clear institutions where complaints against bishops and superiors can be brought forward, provide for truly independent investigations, and hold those who cover up accountable,’ Myriam Wijlens advised.

(photo: Bohumil Petrik/CNA)

VATICAN CITY — A member of Pope Francis’ Commission for the Protection of Minors said Tuesday that the role bishops and superiors have played in the crisis of clerical sex abuse must be made explicit if change is to take place.

In comments to CNA Aug. 21, Myriam Wijlens said the text of Francis’ letter on recent clerical-abuse revelations “does not contain the words ‘bishop,’ ‘superior’ and ‘leadership,’” though it was implied, but “necessary conversion requires that these words find explicit articulation.”

“It is an important step in creating a culture of accountability,” she noted. A member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors (PCPM) and a canon lawyer, Wijlens said that for justice to be carried out, “more steps” must follow.

“Create clear institutions where complaints against bishops and superiors can be brought forward, provide for truly independent investigations, and hold those who cover up accountable,” she advised.

Wijlens, from the Netherlands, was appointed to the PCPM in February.

She noted three areas that are of concern to her as a canon lawyer: first, the formation of a culture that not only prevents sexual abuse but also the abuse of power that leads to cover-ups; and, second, having appropriate ways for victims of abuse to report, be heard and obtain justice.

“Third, see to it that accused get a just and transparent trial and those who cover up, including bishops, are held accountable,” she said. “Here the conversion begins: The leadership of the Church must go out of its own circles.”

In a public statement Tuesday, the PCPM said it was encouraged by Pope Francis’ letter on the sexual abuse crisis and thanked him for his “strong words recognizing the pain and suffering” of survivors of abuse from members of the Church.

They said members of the commission “feel supported by the Holy Father’s call to Church leadership” to implement zero tolerance and emphasized that this and accountability are foundational for the protection of children now and in the future.

In the same statement, Wijlens added that the Pope’s clear connection between sexual abuse, abuse of power and abuse of conscience means he “verbalizes what many do not want to see connected.”

She also said that asking for pardon and reparation will “never be sufficient” because it only looks at the past, whereas a “forward-looking response implies asking for a radical change of culture, where the safety of children enjoys top priority.”

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