Thursday in a written speech Pope Francis reiterated the Catholic Church’s commitment to the protection of minors from sexual abuse, stating that the Church will continue to take a “zero tolerance” stance against offenders. “Let me say quite clearly that sexual abuse is a horrible sin, completely opposite and in contradiction to what Christ and the Church teach us,” the Pope’s prepared remarks stated Sept. 21. “That is why, I reiterate today once again that the Church, at all levels, will respond with the application of the most firm measures to all those who have betrayed their call and abused the children of God.”
Pope Francis addressed members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors at the opening of their plenary assembly. Handing out copies of his prepared statement to those present, he then delivered off-the-cuff remarks. In his prepared speech, the Pope wrote that the Church “irrevocably and at all levels seeks to apply the principle of ‘zero tolerance’ against sexual abuse of minors.”
He explained that the disciplinary measures which have been adopted by particular churches must apply to everyone who works within the institutions of the Church. “However, the primary responsibility is of the bishops, priests and religious, of those who have received the vocation to offer their lives to the service, including the vigilant protection of all vulnerable children, young people and adults,” he continued.
The Pope noted how he has personally had the privilege of listening to the stories of victims and survivors of abuse and that in these encounters people have openly shared the effects that sexual abuse has had on their lives and on the lives of their families. “I know that you too have had the blessed occasion to participate in the same meetings,” he said to commission members, “and that they continue to nourish your personal commitment to do everything possible to combat this evil and eliminate this ruin among us.”
Francis said that he wanted to share at that gathering the “profound pain I feel in my soul for the situation of abused children.” The sexual abuse scandal is, he continued, “a terrible ruin for the whole of humanity” affecting vulnerable children, young people and adults in every country and society. The whole experience has also been “very painful” for the Church and is something “we are ashamed of,” he said. “But we have also experienced a call, which we are sure comes directly from our Lord Jesus Christ: to embrace the mission of the Gospel for the protection of all vulnerable minors and adults.”
Francis spoke to the members of the commission after an address by Cardinal Sean O’Malley, president of the commission, and after presentations by two commission members, Sr. Hermenegild Makoro, CPS, and Mr. Bill Kilgallon, on the projects of the commission’s six working groups from the past three years.
Praising the work of the commission over the last three and a half years, the Pope said that they have worked to consistently emphasize the most important principles guiding the Church's efforts in abuse protection. He also said that he was happy to hear that many churches have taken their advice of holding a Day of Prayer and of dialoguing with victims and survivors. In his address, O’Malley said that the commission considers the safeguarding of minors and vulnerable adults to be “an integral part of the mission of the Church.”
“The Church’s care for victims/survivors of abuse and their families is a primary consideration in this mission. By listening attentively and sharing experiences with them, our Commission has benefitted greatly from all that survivors have offered to us.”
Other things the commission has emphasized has been educational and training programs, especially for Church leaders, and assistance for local churches to develop and implement guidelines, he said.
Following the audience with Pope Francis, he said the commission will hold their plenary assembly to continue to discuss these projects and prepare recommendations for the Pope for the continued work of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.
Francis said that the Church is called to be “a place of piety and compassion, especially for those who have suffered.” The Church is a field hospital, he concluded, one which accompanies each of us on our spiritual journey. “I am fully confident that the Commission will continue to be a place where we can listen with interest to the voices of the victims and the survivors. Because we have much to learn from them and their personal stories of courage and perseverance.”