Halfway there – consolidating the Church’s response to sexual abuse

Msgr. Charles J. Scicluna, the Maltese prelate who, more than anyone else, is in the forefront of the fight against sexual abuse of minors in the Church, announced yesterday that about half of the world’s bishops’ conferences have responded to a request from the Holy See to send in their guidelines for fighting the sin and crime of sexual abuse within their respective jurisdictions. After summer, the promotor of justice said, these guidelines will be studied by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, while those conferences who have not yet responded will be sent a reminder to do so.

All this in an effort to draft a unified response on the part of the Church and an assurance that, wherever in the world the crime takes place, the response and consequences will be the same, including a close cooperation with civil authorities, with the Church always emphasising a victim’s right to report a crime to the police.

As to which conferences have and have not responded, that remains anyone’s guess, although I think it is a near certainty that the Dutch bishops have sent in the measures taken here. Following the review in Rome, suggestions for additions and revisions will be sent back.

In an interview, Msgr. Scicluna linked the current developments to the recent symposium on sexual abuse within the Church (he is pictured above during the penitential vigil that was part of that symposium):

“The experience of those who have had the opportunity to be present at the Symposium at the Pontifical Gregorian  University was very encouraging: some prelates – Scicluna recalled – witnessed with great joy that there had been a strong impact. This is my hope: there has been no mentality revolution during these past few weeks; this will take time and patience. But the right seed has been planted in the Church’s furrow, under the Holy Father’s humble and courageous leadership. People need pastors to be vigilant; this is a battle against sin and against crime. And we cannot be defeated in this battle: the innocence of our children and young people is too precious a treasure for the Church.”


Photo credit: ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images

“Recognition, reparation, compensation, care and aftercare” – improvements in helping the victims

In a five-page letter to Justice Secretary Ivo Opstelten, the Dutch Bishops’ Conference and the Conference of Dutch Religious (KNR) have once again underlined their firm intention of providing recognition, reparation, compensation, care and aftercare for the victims of sexual abuse within the Church.

The letter, signed by Cardinal Willem Eijk for the bishops and Brother Cees van Dam for the KNR, also gives an overview of what has been done, is being done and will be done to further implement the recommendations of the Deetman committee, as published in December of last year. Among the improvements that the bishops and the KNR intend to implement is an increased level of monitoring how the aforementioned measures are being executed. Mr. Deetman and the members of his committee will take care of annual evaluation, and the bishops and the KNR will do the same. A first such report will be presented on May 15th.

The letter then lists four important developments since the last time parliament heard, among others, then-Archbishop Eijk. These are:

  1. The creation of a ‘contact group’, chaired by Bishop Hans van den Hende of Rotterdam, which works in addition to personal meetings of bishops and superiors with victims and victim groups, and will serve as a sort of safety net for victims when progress in their case should stagnate. The contact group has spoken with victim group KLOKK on the first of March, and has planned a subsequent meeting on 5 April.
  2. The Aid Platform is discussing further optimalisation of aid to the victims with KLOKK and Slachtofferhulp Nederland.
  3. A uniform code of conduct for the entire Church province is in the works, to further unify the previously fragmented management structures of the various dioceses and religious orders.
  4. All future priests, deacons, pastoral workers and others with a mission from a bishop, as well as certain religious men and women who work in pastoral care are now required to present a certificate of good conduct. This has long been the case for people who work in education, for example.

The letter is rather silent about the recent castration issue, but that is only logical. Mr. Deetman will be heard by parliament tomorrow about that very issue.

A final important issue that the letter addresses is the statute of limitations. Following a question from Secretary Opstelten, the bishops and the KNR write that that has been invoked in one case, a case that yet awaits a verdict from a judge. Only in civil procedures that aim for financial compensation outside the means that have been provided by the Church, can the statute be theoretically invoked. In my opinion, it would be better if it were never invoked, not least because that is exactly what the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith generally does in these cases, as that congregation’s promoter of justice, Msgr. Charles Scicluna, revealed earlier.

Lastly, the letter comes with a few statistics, which show how much progress still needs to be made before the current claims and complaints have been processed. 2,364 reports and 919 complaints have been received over the course of 2010, 2011 and the first months of 2012. Of the 257 complaints processed, 157 have been declared justified, 57 unfounded,  have been settled amicably, and 40 have been retracted or deemed inadmissible. Since the middle of January, 86 requests for financial compensation have been received; a verdict has been reached in seven of these.

I am sure that many will find fault with some of the details of the letter and the things described in it, but in my opinion, it is a good indication of exactly what has been done in recent months, often behind the scenes and in private. And that is admirable. There is always room for progress, and the letter allows for that. It looks beyond the current situation and take the first steps to prevent something like this ever again.

Closer to home, a complaints commission calls for apologies

Tower of the St. Pancras church

While the major abuse symposium enters its final day in Rome, at home the complaints commission of the Meldpunt Seksueel Misbruik, an institution established by the Dutch Church to receive complaints of sexual abuse and deals with the initial processing of them, has called for Archbishop Wim Eijk and Cardinal Ad Simonis, current and previous archbishops of Utrecht, to apologise for the abuse suffered by nine men in the parish of St. Pancras in Albergen.

The perpetrator of the abuse, who was parish priest at time, died in 1986, but the Meldpunt sees reason to believe that Cardinal Simonis was aware of what had happened, but didn’t act against the priest. There is no proof of this claim, it must be said.

The victims considered this decision as recognition of their pain, and will now start the process of claiming financial compensation from the Church.

In light of the need for openness, honesty and truthfulness, I think the two prelates should simply and humbly apologise for what went wrong.  Their own personal involvement, or lack thereof, does not play a part in that. Like Msgr. Scicluna emphasised yesterday, this is a matter of accountability. The archbishop and the cardinal now have the opportunity to lead by example. Let’s hope that an apology will indeed be forthcoming.

Source: Kerknieuws.

Photo credit: H. Pancratius Parochie

Msgr. Charles J. Scicluna strikes again

The Promotor of Justice of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Monsignor Charles J. Scicluna, spoke at the “Towards Healing and Renewal” symposium yesterday. Titled “The Quest for Truth in Sexual Abuse Cases: A Moral and Legal Duty”, his address dealt with the “honest quest for the truth and for justice,” much according to the words that Pope Pius XII spoke in 1942: “Truth is the law of justice. The world has need of that truth which is justice, and of that justice which is truth.”

Msgr. Scicluna was abundantly clear about how the Church must face the abuse crisis: in a fully open and honest search for the truth. This openness translates in what is perhaps one of the most bare-bones and blunt descriptions of what went wrong and what must be done. Below are some choice quotes to illustrate this.

“[A] deadly culture of silence or “omertà” is in itself wrong and unjust. 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.”

Well, we’ve all seen this happen in the past, be it intentional or not.

“The acknowledgment and recognition of the full truth of the matter in all its sorrowful effects and consequences is at the source of true healing for both victim and perpetrator.”

“The  law  may  indeed  be clear.  But this is not enough for peace and order in the community. Our people need to know that the law is being applied.”

That is a responsibility that lies with the bishops, superiors and prelates of the Church who apply canon law. The law itself must not only be known, but also been seen to be put into practice.

“No  strategy  for  the  prevention  of  child  abuse  will  ever  work  without  commitment  and accountability.”

We not only have to be willing to do what must be done to prevent child abuse, but we must also, always, take our responsibility. Following the above line, Msgr. Scicluna quotes from the pope’s letter to the Catholics of Ireland, in which the Holy Father exhorts the bishops of that country to “renew [their] sense of accountability before God, to grow in solidarity with [their] people and to deepen [their] pastoral concern for all the members of [their] flock.”

By all means, read Msgr. Scicluna’s entire address via the link above. It gives an idea that there are people in the Curia who know what must be done and who, God willing, can help steer the Church in the direction she needs to go.

“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.”

Msgr. Scicluna’s ten commandments

At a time when the Dutch bureau overseeing the process of dealing with the abuse crisis fallout in the nation’s Catholic Church gets properly going after the overhaul suggested by Wim Deetman, Msgr. Charles Scicluna, promotor of justice of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, spoke about his ‘ten commandments’ of how any institution must deal with child abuse. The address draws much upon Pope Benedict XVI’s letter to the Irish Catholics from March of last year and also upon Msgr. Scicluna’s extensive experience in dealing with the abuse crisis. It’s a worthwhile read for those who want to know how the Church thinks and acts about these things (and as such a better source than many a media outlet).

Yes, the address is available in a Dutch translation, and archived under the Translations tab.

In context

Fr. Federico Lombardi SJ

Since the issue of abuse in Catholic institutions keeps on raging and escalating, I think it’s good to share some recent publications about it. On Saturday the Holy See press office released this statement, reiterating and defending the measures taken by the German bishop’s conference to deal with the issue, the Church’s standing canonical regulations about sexual abuse, and one specific issue very close to the pope.

Father Federico Lombardi SJ, head of the press office, also refers to an interview by Msgr. Charles J. Scicluna, which is available here.

Both texts are quite informative, and the interview specifically allows for the current problems (and let’s not forget that these refer to things that happened at least 30 years ago, in general) to be seen in a broader context.

I’m working on a translation into Dutch of both texts, and will link to them here when they’re ready.