hello everyone my name is brian mcginnis ….i just want to let you know my brother frank mcginnis passed away today june 7 2019 he died suddenly …he never forgot hiis time at mirfield or his friends….he kept the secrets of mirfield only admitting that bad things happened there….please remember him in your thoughts and at your reunions he was my brother and my best friend ….he never really talked about what happened there but i know he suffered while he was there ….i just hope he is at peace now …..if anyone wants to say a few words my e mail is email@example.com
Gerry, It’s true, the dominoes are falling, but only for some.
For some that it falls for, it probably falls because they have realised (or been forced to act) that their failings and their apalling behaviour towards victims and survivors of clerical abuse is catching them up.They, therefore, have to say or do something to protect their image and financial status.
For other priests and orders I believe they want to change and support victims and survivors of clerical abuse and feel guilty at the way the victims have been treated, ignored and suffered for decades.
Unfortunately, I don’t think the Combonis have reached that stage of realisation. I doubt if they will. But, we live in hope, for ourselves and for our children and for many vulnerable children in the world.
It was only a couple of years ago that the superior and the vice superior of the most important house the Combonis have said to me: “you and your lot are all money grabbers” and “if you are waiting for an apology you will be waiting a long time and your wait will be in vain.” This is the attitude that many of the victims of cleracil abuse by religious orders are up against. They reach out to the Combonis and ask for dialogue and express their need to be listened to – and they get silence. A silence that revictimises them.
There has not been a rush from the Combonis to engage with the CSG after the recommendations of the recent February summit in Rome. Why is that? They don’t see the need to. And they don’t want to
It would seem, just like it was 25 years ago, we are an inconvenience to them.
The Italian Catholic Church and, hence, the Combonis are so interwovan with Italian politics – past and present – that , the most important and powerful order in Italy, the Combonis, can ignore abuse and all it has to do is remain silent, and use their obedience vow of omerta.
With Sex-Abuse Summit, Pope Francis Signals a ‘Pastoral’ Approach
The Feb. 21-24 meeting takes the view that bishops who think as the Pope wishes them to think about their role as shepherds will then do the right thing in tackling sex abuse.
– Father Raymond J. de Souza
As the sex-abuse summit convenes Thursday in Rome, Pope Francis, for the sixth time in six years, will attempt to accelerate the pace and reach of the Church’s efforts to deal with sexual abusers and to protect minors. Those earlier efforts have, in fits and starts, raised both levels of frustration and expectation that this summit will have genuine results.
And as the summit opens, surprising criticism of the Holy Father’s record is coming from Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston, appointed by Pope Francis to head up the pontifical sex-abuse commission.
The Framework of Pope Francis
The summit will operate within a framework of the dominant themes established by Pope Francis. The official program, released Monday, has Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, Philippines, speaking on the “smell of the sheep” and Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta addressing “the field hospital.” Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay, India, will speak on “collegiality” in a Church that is “sent out,” while Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago will address “synodality.”
The program puts an emphasis not on policies or procedures, let alone changes to canon law, but on a change in mentality by bishops. The favored themes of the Holy Father are to provide the new directions necessary for tackling sex abuse on a universal level.
The sex-abuse summit thus follows in the same line as the synods on the family and youth, where the emphasis shifted from specific questions of doctrine or moral teaching to the call for a new pastoral approach. The summit takes the view that bishops who think as Pope Francis wishes them to think about their role as shepherds will then do the right thing in tackling sex abuse.
Six Initiatives in Six Years
The summit is the sixth major initiative of Pope Francis on the sex-abuse file. And it opens with his chief lieutenant for sexual abuse, Cardinal O’Malley, expressing his frustration with the shortcomings of the previous five.
In 2013, the Holy Father established a papal commission to advise the Holy See on best practices. Last week, prominent articles appeared that gave voice to Cardinal O’Malley’s frustration, namely that the Holy Father hears the commission’s advice, accepts it, but does not follow through.
The frustration appears to be mutual. Cardinal O’Malley is conspicuously absent from the summit’s program, even though two of his colleagues on the “council of cardinals” — Cardinals Gracias and Reinhard Marx of Munich, Germany — are plenary speakers.
In January 2015, a new panel was set up within the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) to hear appeals of sexual-abuse cases, supposedly to expedite matters. Archbishop Scicluna was put in charge. Last week, The Wall Street Journal reported that Cardinal O’Malley found the decisions of Archbishop Scicluna’s appellate panel to be a “scandal,” as it favored more lenient penalties. On the eve of the sexual-abuse summit, the Holy Father’s top adviser on sexual abuse was at odds with the Vatican’s “chief prosecutor.”
In June 2015, Pope Francis announced a new special tribunal in the CDF to judge cases when bishops were accused of “abuse of office.” The CDF was never consulted on the initiative, and, after its announcement, it was never implemented.
In June 2016, Pope Francis dropped the tribunal idea and instead issued new legislation that gave various departments of the Roman Curia responsibility for investigating and judging bishops who either abused their office or were negligent, especially in regard to sex abuse.
In 2018, on his return flight from Dublin, the Holy Father confirmed that the provisions of his own legislation were not being implemented either, as he had changed his mind and preferred to judge such cases himself, with the assistance of ad hoc panels set up by himself.
Also in 2018, Pope Francis sent Archbishop Scicluna to Chile to investigate the bishops there. After receiving his report, the Holy Father said that his repeated mistakes in Chile were the result of being “badly informed,” even though on crucial matters he had been asked by both the Chilean bishops and mass protests not to proceed.
As a consequence, the entire Chilean episcopate offered their resignations, eight of which were accepted, and two bishops have been dismissed from the clerical state.
In September 2018, after a horrific summer of sexual-abuse news in the United States, and after the complete fiasco of the Chile affair in the spring, the Holy Father announced the sex-abuse summit for February 2019. It is thus the sixth major initiative of the pontificate.
Cardinal O’Malley’s Criticism
Last week, The Wall Street Journal reported that Cardinal O’Malley complained at the highest levels in Rome that Archbishop Scicluna’s appeals panel had reduced the punishments of priests found guilty of abusing minors. There wasn’t zero tolerance, he claimed, despite the Holy Father advocating just that.
“If this gets out, it will cause a scandal,” the Journal quoted Cardinal O’Malley as telling Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state, and other Vatican officials, citing an unnamed person present during the meeting.
As for the processes to judge bishops, set up in 2015 and 2016 only to be abandoned almost immediately, Cardinal O’Malley told The Atlantic that, despite his detailed proposals, the Pope “was convinced to do it another way.”
“We’re still waiting for the procedures to be clearly articulated,” Cardinal O’Malley said. It was a devastating assessment of failure on the key issue of bishops’ accountability. After two official announcements going back four years, including one that was actually legislated, not even Cardinal O’Malley knows what the Holy Father intends to do. Bishops’ accountability will not be a key part of the summit this week.
It is not clear why Cardinal O’Malley, in the lead-up to the summit, would raise the fundamental questions he did. Yet it certainly indicates a frustration with the role of the commission he heads.
That the summit does not include him as a speaker, nor other commission members on its preparatory council, seems to confirm Cardinal O’Malley’s frustrations over a lack of follow-through.
Indeed, it may be that the commission itself has met the fate of the Holy Father’s other sex-abuse initiatives, which offered a bold beginning only to be abandoned later.
Father Raymond J. de Souza is the editor in chief of Convivium magazine.
The Undisclosed Nightmare of Abuse In Catholic Religious Institutes
By Brian Mark Hennessy of the Comboni CSA Survivor Group
1. When I was 12 years old a visiting preacher attended my school, gathered all the boys in an assembly, ranted on about the 6th Commandment and told us that we would all be burned in Hell for our ‘impurity’. I was stunned in fear. A group of us gathered later and asked what the 6th was all about. One of us said it was ‘adultery’. I drew the short straw on the Friday to confess first and when I said, in my innocence, that I had committed ‘adultery’, the priest roared at the top of his voice, ‘You must be mad’! In fear I jumped out of the confessional box and came face to face with the full school assembly looking at me in alarm. When I entered the Comboni Missionary seminary at Mirfield in Yorkshire, UK, just a year later, I went to sleep each night with my arms outstretched above the bed clothes saying the Rosary in fear that I might die in the night and go to Hell. Apart from the Catechism and prayers that I had learned by rote, that was the sum of my knowledge of Catholicism at the time.
2. Following an illness at the seminary which required a spell in hospital I was confined for two weeks by a priest, acting as Infirmarian, to a room adjacent to his. He visited me twice a day for two weeks, locked the door, told me to strip off and kneel on the edge of the bed. He kneeled in front of me to carry out ‘inspections’ to see if everything was ‘working properly’ after the invasive hospital endoscopic inspection. I now know that what he was doing is called ‘masturbation’. I was too embarrassed to watch at the time and looked straight ahead and I was unsuspecting – until one day something made me look down. I flinched in shock when I saw the sweat on his bald head, his red temples pumping blood and his eyes staring right into my eyes pleading for my complicity. The priest saw my reaction and immediately left, telling me to return to the dormitory.
3. In the last two decades, a group of some 24 ex-seminarians have claimed that they were victims of clerical abuse when they were minors at the hands of Comboni clerics at the Mirfield Seminary by members of the Comboni Missionary Order (also known as the Verona Fathers). It is accepted that the total number of alleged incidents of abuse will never be known for certain, but, by extrapolation from the statements made by both Victims and Witnesses, the number of those incidents of the sexual abuse of minors, each incident a “crime” in its own right, has been established to be in the region of 1,000 incidents in the period from the late 1950s to the early 1980s. No Inquiries to which the Victims were invited to give evidence was ever heard. No reports were made to the Local Constabulary regarding evidence of crimes against minors and nor were Welfare Authorities advised. It appears also that no action was taken in compliance with Canon Law which required the compulsory reporting to the Vatican of all offences against the 6th Commandment committed by clerics of the Catholic Church.
4. The Comboni Missionary Order was aware that abuse was taking place at the time of the abuse. Information from over 40 statements by Victims and Witnesses reveals that reports were made to priests of the Order on 26 occasions by Victims. The majority reaction by those priests to whom the abuse was reported was negative, ranging from stony silence to expulsion. Ultimately, due to extreme and consistent pressure from students and parents, one priest was “incardinated” to a parish in the Diocese of Como in Italy. Another was sent to Uganda where he was placed in charge of the Catholic Boy Scout Movement and a third was also transferred to Africa where he founded a school which became named after him. In their new appointments, each of them was allowed unmonitored and unfettered access to more minors.
5. In recent years, following civil legal actions, a string of statements were made to the Press by the UK Provincial of the Comboni Missionary Order, expressing great sadness and regret at the allegations ‘if’ they had happened. They suggested that given the passage of time of almost half a century, the truth of what happened will never be known and that there was no evidence of a culture of abuse at the Mirfield seminary. They stressed that the allegations alleged had taken place ‘an incredibly long time ago – and two of the priests who were accused are now deceased – and they simply don’t know what happened at Mirfield and don’t feel that it can be established now’. I, for one, do know that it happened – because it happened to me. Whilst responses are not the same for all those who have been abused by one that was implicitly trusted, there are always persistent, destructive effects that cast mental restraints upon their life and all interactions. These may not necessarily be self- acknowledged and may be harmfully suppressed. In others they flow demonstrably for all to see.
6. Despite attempts by some Combonis to deny the criminality of depraved Mirfield clerics, there were two priests of the Order alive (at the time allegations were raised) who were at Mirfield in that period of time and who did have knowledge of the abuse and have said so. The Comboni Order, nevertheless, has always ignored such unhelpful facts to their denials and has never admitted guilt for any of the offences that they know were reported and did occur. If they looked for the evidence, then they would find it, for their own Rules require that the Order must retain ‘in perpetuity’ all records of incidents of reported sexual abuse in their Secret Archives at both their Provincial Headquarters and their Curia in Rome. They neglected to do a search when I first raised issues about abuse with them and even suggested to me that the cleric concerned was old and was most probably already dead. Actually, he was still alive – and when he did die some years later, his passing was notified in one of their official documents for all to see. The Uk Provincial at the time had fended me off, but had he checked with the Rome Curia of the Order, where he had once himself worked, he would have known the full facts and his then current location.
7. Requests for dialogue and letters from Victims can remain unanswered. One was told by the current UK Provincial that if he rang him again he would be reported to the Police for harassment. Another priest of the Order contacted by a Survivor said that he could not talk to the Survivor ‘because his dinner was on the table and was going cold’. Yet another cleric of the Order, a past Superior General with an appointment at the Vatican, said to a Survivor who rang him, ‘I will listen to you, but I will not answer’! That same Survivor – who travelled to Italy to meet the priest (who had nightly abused him as 14 year old for a period of months) and who forgave that priest in an amicable meeting – was subsequently charged by the Combonis in the Criminal Court of Verona with trespassing, stalking and interfering in the life of the priest (who had abused him was he was a 14 year old child). The charge was thrown out by the Judge as being without any evidence at all – yet the Combonis appealed – and that Appeal was also quashed.
8. The Comboni Missionary Order has established a number of houses within Great Britain since the 1940s. They did so with the permission, as required by Canon Law, of the Bishops in whose dioceses they founded their establishments. The seminarians who attended the Mirfield Comboni Seminary were recruited from parishes within the dioceses of Great Britain. Still today, the Combonis make ‘Appeal’ collections in those parishes of those same dioceses for the upkeep of their establishments and missions. Mirfield seminarians who left the Combonis after suffering abuse returned to the same diocesan parishes whence they came and some remain parishioners today. Thus, the British Diocesan Hierarchy has a hold over the Comboni Missionary Order, despite their separate Canonical structures, and they are perfectly well entitled, under Canon Law, to seek to rescind their permission for the Combonis to continue their existence within these British shores. Despite the Bishops’ ‘magnificence’ in the hierarchical structure of the ancient Catholic edifice, they appear to tremble to do so.
9. Vatican II asked for greater co-operation between Diocesan Bishops and Religious Superiors for the ‘good of the Church’. Some Bishops and Provincial Superiors – who under Canon Law each share an equivalent status as ‘Juridical and Territorial Ordinaries’ are amenable to the desire for a degree of conducive co-operation, but others are not. Catholic Safeguarding Officials made a number of overtures on behalf of the Survivors of alleged clerical sexual abuse by Comboni Missionary clerics to change that Order’s attitude to Victims, but they were ignored as there was no compulsion to take heed.
10. In 2015, I produced a 177 page document on the details of the abuse at the Comboni Missionary Order’s Mirfield Seminary. I sent a copy to all the Bishops of the British Isles and to the Cardinal Prefects of the Vatican Congregations, but there was only one response. It was from an Irish Bishop, who asked, ‘What am I supposed to do with this?’ I had to restrain myself from telling him! I then forwarded a copy to each member of the Comboni Missionary Hierarchy internationally in the forty-five countries in which they worked and in the United Kingdom. I had no response. Ultimately, I forwarded a copy, over a period of two weeks, to every one of the Order’s 1000 priests who had a listed email address. I received three replies. Two said that it was all lies, but eventually admitted that they had not read the document. One old Italian priest did reply. He said that his English was not good, but that he had read the document from cover to cover – that it had taken him three hours – and he ‘felt ashamed’! Yet, he was not able to assist us as he did not want his name to be made known in fear of reprisals by the Order’s Hierarchy. In January 2016, Cardinal Vincent Nichols was persuaded to take a copy of that document and hand it in personally to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He confirmed to me from Rome that he had done so. Three years later there has not been a response from the Vatican.
11. In 2018, I completed an ‘Application for Papal Justice’ in the case of one Mirfield seminarian – under Canon Law 1417 : ‘By reason of the primacy of the Roman Pontiff, any member of the faithful is free to bring or introduce his or her own contentious or penal case to the Holy See for adjudication’. It was handed into the Pope’s Private Office in August 2018 by Father Hans Zollner SJ, who is Director of the Institute of Psychology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and a member of the current Synod implementation Committee. No response was received from the Private Office of the Pope. Thus, when Archbishop Scicluna, Pope Francis’ ‘front man’ on sexual abuse matters, moved from Malta to Rome at the end of 2018 to prepare the issues to be discussed at the forthcoming Synod, the matter of the continued silence of the Comboni Missionary Order was raised directly with him. He immediately arranged for the the two documents referred to above to be passed to the Disciplinary Office of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. We remain hopeful for a response before we depart this world. Approaching my 74th year that chance is increasingly more slim as the years slip by. One of our younger dear friends within our Group of Survivors of Comboni child sexual abuse died just last year without a whisper of regret by the Combonis for the abuse he suffered.
12. The Bishops, who are responsible for the 25,000 or so diocesan priests around the globe, have started to gather in Rome. We know now what exposure the Bishops can face from the communities around them. If they continue to fail in matters of safeguarding, there is an increasingly good chance that both Civil Justice and Catholic lay groups will now monitor and ensure that appropriate Civil and Canonical justice against degenerate clerics will be pursued. In time, hopefully, they face the likelihood that they will all be ‘hauled over the coals’ and brought to account – but what of recalcitrant global Orders like the Comboni Missionary Order of Verona, Italy? Who will monitor their conduct?
13. The rarely mentioned Religious Superiors and Abbots of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Institutes of Sacred Life have been called to attend the Rome Synod in February also. Between them, they control by a vow of obedience, some 750,000 clerics throughout the world (Vatican figures relating to 2015 & published 2017). Those clerics comprise 75% of all Catholic clerics (male and female) and they work in schools, missions, hospitals, orphanages, refuges and youth organizations. Unless mechanisms are established throughout the globe to scrutinise them thoroughly and subject them to invasive processes of continued monitoring by competent authorities (clerical, lay and civil) then child sexual abuse will continue to go undetected and their horrendous crimes will blight the lives of innocents for generations into the future. Therein lays the silent, hidden horror that is yet to be fully exposed. It is not an isolated problem that can be left to chance. There are some 20,000 orphanages under Catholic Religious Orders’ control in Italy and India alone. To our horror and disgust, we all within these British Isles know what can happen in Orphanages when they remain unchecked. If the Catholic Church Synod fails to establish the processes to do so then these establishments must be licensed by the civil authorities throughout the world to conduct their activities and be subjected to rigorous and repetitive processes of monitoring and inspection. Some would say, with a substantial degree of evidence behind them, that the Catholic Church can never be trusted again without such invasive, external regimes of control. The safe futures of millions of the world’s children are truly at stake in this moment in history. Their lives cannot be left to chance.
Cardinal Luis Francisco Ladaria, do’nt ignore the documents, written by Brian Mark Hennessey (CSG) about child abuse by the Combonis.They were forwarded to the Disiplinary Office of the CDF by Scicluna. As head of the CDF what is your response to this.
Archbishop Scicluna Says February Meeting Start of ‘Global Approach’ to Fighting Sex Abuse
By Gerard O’Connell
Archbishop Charles Scicluna, center, has been chosen as part of a steering committee to lead the meeting of bishops’ conferences from around the world in February. (CNS photo/courtesy Archdiocese of Santiago)
In a decision highlighting the great importance he gives to next February’s summit meeting on “the protection of minors in the church,” to which he has called the presidents of all the Catholic bishops conferences, Pope Francis has appointed a high-powered steering committee to oversee the project.
The committee is composed of two cardinals, Blase Cupich (Chicago) and Oswald Gracias (Bombay, India), and two of the church’s experts in the field: Archbishop Charles Scicluna (Malta), and Father Hans Zollner, a German Jesuit and president of the Center for Child Protection and Director and professor of psychology at the Gregorian University in Rome, who will serve as coordinator. The Vatican announced this today, November 23.
In this exclusive interview with America, Archbishop Scicluna, whom the pope recently appointed as adjunct secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and who is also the president of its tribunal for appeals, speaks about the significance and goals of the February meeting, and how it will be conducted.
The Vatican announced today the archbishop will serve on a committee overseeing the Vatican meeting along with Cardinals Blase Cupich and Oswald Gracias and Jesuit Father Hans Zollner.
He described it as “a synodal meeting, the first ever of its kind to address the issue of the sexual abuse of minors in the church.“ It is “quite significant” because it brings together the presidents of over 100 bishops conferences from around the world, and the heads of all the Eastern-rite Catholic churches. Moreover, it is “a very important sign of what we call in technical terms ‘affective collegiality,’ which means the bringing together of bishops from around the world with the Holy Father to discuss important issues and to get them to be on the same page with the Holy Father.”
He said Pope Francis called this summit meeting because “he realizes that this issue,” namely the protection of children and the prevention and addressing of sexual abuse by clergy in the church, “has to be top on the church’s agenda.” The pope realizes that “this is a global issue, it is not a case of geographical or cultural criteria, rather it is a global issue which the church would want to approach with a united front, with respect for the different cultures but with a united resolve and with people being on the same page on it.”
While acknowledging that it is only four days long (Feb. 21-24) and “is certainly not going to solve everything,” Archbishop Scicluna emphasized that “it is a very important start of a global process which will take quite some time to perfect.” As a result of this process he hopes that “a number of initiatives on a continental level will start to happen that will re-create the atmosphere of resolve, determination but also purpose which I hope will mark the Rome meeting,” and will help “to address the issues in a different number of cultures, that have their own restraints, their own important positive aspects but also deficits that have to be discussed on a continental but also local level.”
Explore America’s in-depth coverage of sexual abuse and the Catholic Church.
Archbishop Scicluna described the February meeting as “the beginning of a new approach that I hope will be global, because it concerns the whole church, but it will also have a very important local context because safeguarding is not something up-there, it can’t be abstract, it has to be lived in every parish, in every school, in every diocese, and so it has to have an effect on the local level otherwise it’s not effective at all.”
He explained that the “main goals” of the meeting “are to make bishops realize and discuss together the fact that the sexual abuse of minors is not only an egregious phenomenon in itself and a crime, but it is also a very grave symptom of something deeper, which is actually a crisis in the way we approach ministry. Some call it clericalism, others call it a perversion of the ministry.”
He recalled that Pope Francis “has talked a lot about the way we go on with the stewardship of the community, not only as bishops but also as priests,” and said “the issue not only concerns the individual tragic cases of misconduct and the impact of that crime on the most vulnerable, the children, but also the way stewardship is exercised when we are faced with the issues; so the way we treat perpetrators, the way we treat victims, the way we treat the community.” All this will be discussed in February.
“Accountability is part of stewardship,” the archbishop stated. “Stewardship is not only accountability to God and to our conscience, but also to our community,” he explained; “stewardship means doing your job and doing it properly, especially when it is a question of care,” whereas “cover-up” is “the antithesis of stewardship.” “When you cover-up,” he said, “you are actually not solving a problem, you are deciding not to address it, you are deciding to hide important consequences and avoid the demands of justice, which is certainly not good stewardship.” He emphasized that “we have to move away from panic-driven policies that put the good name of the institution above all other considerations” and “in the end, those policies do reputational damage to the institution; they are actually also counterproductive, and it’s a no-go area.” He insisted that “we need to move forward from any temptation to cover up any crimes. It is only the truth will set us free.”
Archbishop Scicluna declared that “if we have a sickness in the body of the church, we need to face it, not to hide it, because otherwise it will grow and do more damage.” He recalled that Pope Francis “addressed the question of accountability in a law that he promulgated in 2016,” in the decree “As a Loving Mother,” which “creates a procedure whereby bishops who are negligent or not up to standard with their stewardship can be removed.” Indeed, he said, “there is an old tradition according to which, if the bishop is going to cause harm with his stewardship, then the See of Rome has the right and the duty to remove such a bishop.”
In this context, he emphasized that “we cannot avoid the important theological aspect that we bishops are stewards in a hierarchical communion together with the Holy Father, and so there is a jurisdiction of the Holy Father over each and every one of us bishops that we have to respect when we talk of accountability within the context of the Roman Catholic Church.”
He said the February meeting aims to get bishops and religious superiors “to realize the gravity of the situation,” to accept ownership of the issue, and then “to address questions of stewardship,” which means “not only how we care about our children, but also how we deal with cases [of abuse] and so questions of accountability and transparency are of the utmost importance,” and will be discussed at the meeting.
In this context, he said, “we bishops need to approach the issue of the sexual abuse of minors together as churches, and we also need to adopt what Pope Francis is calling ‘a synodal approach,’ that is we cannot do it alone in our community, we need also to empower the lay people, the laity, in order to help us be good stewards.”
He believes the meeting will communicate “the important message” that “the prevention of abuse and protection and safeguarding of our children and young people is not a question only of the bishop, it is a synodal issue; it is something that involves the whole church and everyone in the church around the world; it concerns one and all.”
Insisting on “this synodal aspect,” Archbishop Scicluna said, “it is not only bringing the bishops together but also approaching it on the local level as a community, in a synodal process. It takes a village to educate a child, and it takes a village to prevent abuse and to approach it properly wherever, unfortunately, it happens.”
He said Pope Francis wants the church to move forward on this question in a synodal manner, following the doctrine of the Second Vatican Council. He explained that “synodality means that we appreciate the different charisms and gifts of the laity, their expertise, and that we empower them to join bishops in the role of stewardship.” He added, “it’s not a question of having control over the hierarchy, it is the hierarchy empowering and facilitating the sharing of charisms which the Spirit also gives to the laity, because there are gifts there that will help issues of prevention and safeguarding that we need to bring on board, and we need to facilitate as bishops.”
He recalled that Pope Francis highlighted this synodal aspect in confronting abuse in his “Letter to the People of God” before his visit to Dublin last August; “he wants that to be on the agenda of every conference of bishops around the world” and at the Rome meeting he wants the bishops “to listen to victims, to talk to experts, and to listen to each other and to the concern that this issue brings before them.”
He expects the February meeting in process and structure to be somewhat like a synod in so far as “there are going to be plenary sessions; there are going to be language groups working, and then reporting back; there are going to be prayer groups; there are going to be listening to different stake-holders. It’s going to be a mixture of information, formation, discussion. The idea is that certain values are not only agreed upon, but also that certain priorities are put forward and adopted by the bishops.”
There will be “a penitential liturgy” during the meeting because “Pope Francis wants it,” Archbishop Scicluna said, “and victims are going to be a part of that liturgy too, just as they will be consulted in advance of the meeting, and be listened to during it.”
Some have spoken about the need for changes in Canon Law so as to deal properly with the abuse issue. Commenting on this, Archbishop Scicluna said, “Canon law always follows reality. To a certain extent it does form people in a certain context like the 1983 code of canon law did form a generation in the implementation of Vatican II.” Since canon law follows reality, he said, “it will have to change in response to new issues and new priorities in the church.” He envisaged, for example, the possibility of changes that would give “a stronger role for the metropolitan bishops” and “a bigger role for the victims in canonical penal processes.” He doesn’t think the February meeting “is going to enter into the details of such reforms of canon law” but he expects that “there will be an important input that will start a process that may actually get a reform of canon law.”
Archbishop Scicluna hopes “that the spirit of this meeting will be positive and proactive, and will also help to give a sign of hope to the bishops themselves, to the whole church, to the People of God, and, importantly to leadership at all levels in the church.”
The Vatican announced that in addition to the presidents of the bishops conferences and the heads of the Eastern-rite Catholic churches, there will be other participants too at the February meeting, including the prefects of the C.D.F. and the congregations for the evangelization of peoples, the oriental churches, bishops, the institutes of consecrated life and the societies of apostolic life, and of the dicastery for laity, the family and life. Representatives of the Union of Religious Superiors and of the International Union of Superiors Generals are also invited.
The Maltese archbishop underlined the importance of the presence of these major superiors because “they have hundreds of religious under their care, most of them priests but also even lay religious and they also are important stakeholders in education, in formation and in pastoral care. Superior Generals for women religious will also be present. It is very, very important to have the major superiors present and part of this process.”
In its statement today, the Vatican revealed that besides the four members of the steering committee, many other people are involved in the preparation for the meeting, including lay experts and two lay women who are under-secretaries from the dicastery for the Laity, the Family and Life: Gabriella Gambino and Linda Ghisoni. The Commission for the Protection of Minors, headed by Cardinal Sean O’Malley, is also involved and, most importantly, so too are “some victims of abuse by clergy.”
Referring to the steering committee, Archbishop Scicluna said Pope Francis chose its four members to be “responsible for the organization” and “for advising him” and the Secretariat of States. Their task is to oversee the preparation for the meeting, and to ensure that everything is done properly. He emphasized that the choice of Father Zollner as coordinator of the committee is “an important reminder” that the meeting is “not only about stewardship, it’s also about reflective stewardship”; he brings “the expertise of psychology and best practices in prevention, which have to be part and parcel of the stewardship role of the church.”
He concluded by repeating that the meeting is only “the beginning of a process” and when it ends “we’ll have to leave the Holy Father and his close collaborators any decisions for further meetings on a continental basis, on a more decentralized basis. This is the beginning of a process, it is not the beginning and end of something.”