“Towards Healing and Renewal,” and a unified response to the crisis

Early next month, Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University will be hosting a symposium “to promote a consistent, global response by the Church that protects the weakest and invites creative leadership for our Church communities”. It is a direct response to last year’s circular letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which called for the development of “procedures suitable for assisting the victims of such abuse, and also for educating the ecclesial community concerning the protection of minors” in the entire world Church.

On a website (which is currently still undergoing development), the rector of the Gregorian, Fr. François-Xavier Dumortier, S.J. present the symposium, titled “Towards Healing and Renewal: A Symposium for Bishops and Religious Superiors on Sexual Abuse”.  Reflecting the significance of this symposium, which can be considered a first concrete effort to unify the Church’s worldwide response to the abuse crisis, is perhaps the list of speakers, among them Cardinal William Levada and Msgr. Charles Scicluna.

From the press release:

“Towards Healing and Renewal is being offered by the Gregorian University in Rome and consists of a major symposium followed by the launch of a multi-institution e-learning centre which will run for the next three years – the Center for the Protection of Children based in Munich, Germany. Delegates for the symposium will come from 110 Bishops’ Conferences and also be superiors of 30 Religious Orders, making this a truly international gathering focusing on safeguarding by the Catholic Church.

This initiative has the support of several Vatican Congregations as well as the Secretary of State and the symposium, which will run from February 6-9, will have speakers from all continents in recognition of the global nature of safeguarding the vulnerable. The speakers include the testimony of a victim of abuse, who will address the delegates about the need for victims to be heard and how to effect positive change.”

The website linked to above offers a clear picture of the symposium’s goals and purpose: to allow the participants and those they represent to learn how to handle all the facets of the ongoing abuse crisis. Notably, there will also be a voice for the victims, with little doubt one of the most important voices in this situation.

As Rector Dumortier writes in the final paragraph of his introduction: “Let us keep in prayer the participants in the Symposium, the presenters, but most especially all those who have been impacted in some way or form by sexual abuse within our Church and society.”

The archbishop in parliament

In an unprecedented hearing yesterday, Archbishop Wim Eijk spoke to politicians about the abuse crisis and the work that is being done by the Church in the wake of the Deetman report. It seems that even now, there are things we can learn, most specifically from Belgium: there new raids of diocesan offices took place, whereas over here the Church seems to try and work with the state to find solutions. Or the state with the Church, for that matter.

Yesterday’s hearing came after a letter from Justice secretary Ivo Opstelten, which explained that abusers whose crime fall under the state of limitations, since they took place decades ago, can not now be prosecuted after all. Which, as victims’ organisations pointed out, does not mean the Church can’t take steps against these people. The Church, after all, has a readily waived statute of limitations for these crimes.

The Church remains committed to eradicating sexual abuse “root and branch”, the archbishop said. But, it must be acknowledged, she is still finding its feet in these matters. After many years of trying to resolve the situation internally, the Church in the Netherlands and all over the world is learning to work publicly and with other institutions. The Vatican seems to be starting to coordinate and direct how individual bishops’ conferences and religious congregations work for and with victims and against sexual abuse, for example.

Back home, the archbishop revealed that a special contact group between bishops and victims will be created to further communication between the two. We’ve seen the first steps in Archbishop Eijk’s meeting with victims on Sunday. An important role in this group will be played by Rotterdam’s Bishop Hans van den Hende (right), who is a good choice for such sensitive and pastoral work.

Photo credit: [1] Trouw