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Eradicate the evil of child abuse, says Pope at meeting in Rome

By Cian Molloy - 25 February, 2019

Pope Francis addressing the congregation in the Sala Regia in Rome on Sunday (Photo: Vatican Media).

Three new concrete initiatives aimed at tackling the abuse of children and vulnerable adults by clergy were announced by the Vatican on Sunday, the final day of the Protection of Minors in the Church meeting in Rome.

The moderator of the four-day long meeting, Fr Frederico Lombardi SJ, announced that the Pope is to publish a Motu proprio within the next few days that will provide rules and regulations for the safeguarding of minors and vulnerable adults within the precincts of the Vatican City State.

A rulebook, known as a vademecum, is to be distributed to bishops around the world, explaining their judicial and pastoral duties and responsibilities in relation to protecting children.

A new task force of competent experts is being set up to assist bishops’ conferences that lack sufficient resources or expertise, to adequately ensure that minors are safeguarded and that instances of abuse are dealt with properly.

Additionally, the committee that organised last week’s meeting is to hold a series of meetings with the heads of various departments within the Vatican Curia to discuss issues that need following up and to decide what next for the Church and its duty of care to its most vulnerable members.

The Protection of Minors in the Church meeting received worldwide media coverage, which is not surprising given the extent of the clerical child abuse scandal. How effective the initiative will be in tackling the problem remains to be seen.

One delegate, Nigerian nun Sr Veronica Openibo, spoke for many when she asked: “How could the clerical Church have kept silent, covering these atrocities? The silence, the carrying of the secrets in the hearts of the perpetrators, the length of the abuses and the constant transfer of the perpetrators are unimaginable.

“I think all of us must acknowledge that our mediocrity, hypocrisy and complacency, have brought us to this disgraceful and scandalous place that we find ourselves as a church.

“Yes, we proclaim the Ten Commandments and parade ourselves as being the custodians of moral standards and values and good behaviour in society. But why did we keep silent for so long?”

On Sunday, following a Mass marking the closing of the meeting, Pope Francis called for an “all-out battle” on clerical sex abuse, describing those who abuse children as “instruments of Satan”.

He said: “The time has come, then, to work together to eradicate the evil of child abuse. The time has come to find a correct equilibrium of all values in play and to provide uniform directives for the Church, avoiding the two extremes of a justicialism provoked by guilt for past errors and media pressure, and a defensiveness that fails to confront the causes and effects of these grave crimes.”

In his address, the Pope pointed out that the sexual abuse of minors is “a widespread phenomenon in all cultures and societies” and he noted that a great deal of abuse is not reported, “particularly the great number committed within families”.

But he admitted that child abuse by clergy was especially reprehensible: “The brutality of this worldwide phenomenon becomes all the more grave and scandalous in the Church, for it is utterly incompatible with her moral authority and ethical credibility.”

Henceforth, said the Pope in his post-Mass address: “The Church will spare no effort to do all that is necessary to bring to justice whosoever has committed such crimes. The Church will never seek to hush up or not take seriously any case [of abuse of minors].”

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