Ahead of a summit of presidents of bishops’ conferences and other Church officials in Rome Feb. 21-24 on clerical sexual abuse and child protection, voices from around the world are emphasizing that it’s a global problem requiring a global solution.
For instance, Rogelio Cabrera, Archbishop of Monterrey, Mexico, president of the country’s bishops’ conference, said on Sunday that in the past nine years 152 priests have been removed from ministry in his country due to sexual abuse allegations.
“Some delinquent priests are in jail, others have been suspended from their priestly ministry,” he said on Sunday at a press conference. Though he didn’t disclose the number of people who’ve been sexually abused by priests, he did say that he’s met with several of them in recent days.
He also noted that it’s important for each diocese in Mexico to have a system to bring the allegations to civil justice, and an information network of cases of abuse by priests.
“One of the things we have to work on is precisely compiling the information, in Mexico there’s no center of recompilation of information, because each bishop confronts these problems [alone],” he said.
“We hope that after the measures that the Church has put in place of zero tolerance, the number of crimes will go down,” and also that bishops will work harder on addressing the situations “as the law calls for, [because] when we receive information we must immediately inform the public ministry.”
Cabrera is scheduled to attend the February summit.
In Spain, where new cases of clerical sexual abuse are coming to light regularly, there’s a group of professionals, both lay and religious, who see the encounter with survivors and victims as more than a request in preparation for the meeting.
Earlier this month, a group of educators, psychologists, doctors, journalists and experts on both civil and canon law created the association Betania (Bethany). As its president Maria Teresa Compte told Crux on Monday, the association was formed “organically,” as part of a process to guarantee that the work these people were doing autonomously had a continuation in time.
Betania is inspired by and recognizes the principles of the Church’s doctrine, but is constituted independently, without being subject to any ecclesiastical discipline.
Composed of mostly lay men and women, “our commitment is with the victims, they are the reason of our existence: a personal and professional commitment with people who’ve suffered abuse within a specific context, that speaks to us.”
“Our option is for the victims, and our action is collaborative,” she said, noting that they are a group of people who have a “complementary approach to the same trauma,” forming a project that goes beyond individual actions.
All those involved in Betania, Compte said, are moved by their commitment to survivors, and they work in accompanying victims so that they become “protagonists, can progressively become aware of what they lived, but also of their abilities and resources, freeing themselves from the feeling of guilt that the aggressors transferred onto them and recovering their own existence.”
Compte is the director of the Master’s program in the Social Doctrine of the Church in Salamanca’s Pontifical University. Speaking about the bishops’ meeting with victims of clerical sexual abuse ahead of the summit in Rome, she said that she doesn’t give advice, but that it’s important to remember that survivors “are members of our family.”
“The people who were abused within the Church, are people who were abused in our home: in schools, rectories, or in very sacred environments, such as processes of spiritual accompaniment, vocational discernment, in seminaries, in the confessional,” she said.
“Don’t be afraid to encounter victims, to sit in front of them, look at them in the eye, hear their truth… this is opening to God. It’s a mystery, because on the one hand, it’s opening to evil, but on the other hand, it’s the mystery of the resurrection.”
Whoever encounters a victim of abuse by the Church, the expert said, has to be ready to encounter evil.
“We’re not at the beginning of the process,” she noted. “We’re at an intermediate part of it. We have a lot of information. We’ve read heartbreaking testimonies, we know reports, we have a very strong institutional position that has been taken. And we also have the generosity of the victims. It’s true, sometimes they’re angry. But this is normal. When you knock on a door and they don’t answer, or they do and then close the door to your face, you get angry.”
“And what’s the problem? That victims are angry? No, the problem is what they’ve suffered through,” she said. “We mustn’t be afraid of victims, but we have to be afraid of the aggressors, because we have to fear evil, not the people who’ve had evil done unto them.”
Compte also said that the entire ecclesial community is called to question if it’s sufficiently sensitized when it comes to this issue, including lay people. “I think we still need to have that ‘click,’ overcome the idea of the institutional reputation.”
“Pope Francis has already told us what needs to be done, through his testimony and example,” Compte said, noting that the pontiff himself went through a personal process. And beyond the successor of Peter, “what’s Jesus’ example? The Gospel gives it to us: it was Christ who approached the sick, the sinners, those who need help.”
“The first step must be acknowledging the truth of what has happened. For this reason, we urge each episcopal conference president to reach out and visit with victim survivors of clergy sex abuse in your respective countries prior to the meeting in Rome to learn first-hand the suffering that they have endured,” said a letter from the organizing committee released by the Vatican Dec. 18.
Francis called for the meeting in September, summoning the presidents of the world’s bishops’ conferences, the heads of the Eastern Catholic churches and representatives of the leadership groups of men and women religious orders to the Vatican.
Since the pope’s announcement, there have been attempts to downplay the meeting’s importance, with Francis himself saying that he wanted to “deflate” expectations, saying it will mostly be about transmitting a “catechesis” on the “drama” of abuse.
According to the pontiff, his advisory cabinet first discussed the possibility of the meeting last year after seeing that there are bishops who still don’t know what to do when cases of clerical sexual abuse arise.
Their three-day gathering in Rome, then, will become a platform to make the “drama of children who’ve been abused” comprehensible to every bishop, he said, not only for those where the scandals have already exploded.