Pope Francis has sent a letter to religious superiors and presidents of episcopal conferences, asking for their full cooperation in ending the sexual abuse of minors, and making the Church a safe haven. “Everything possible must be done to rid the Church of the scourge of the sexual abuse of minors and to open pathways of reconciliation and healing for those who were abused,” the Pope said in his Feb. 2 letter. Addressed to the Presidents of Episcopal Conferences and Superiors of Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, the letter was a plea asking for their complete cooperation with the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. First announced in December 2013, the commission was officially established by Pope Francis last March in order to explore various proposals and initiatives geared toward the improvement of norms and procedures for protecting children and vulnerable adults. The commission, the Pope said, is “a new, important and effective means” of ensuring the protection at every level of the Church, including episcopal conferences, dioceses, institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life among others. “Families need to know that the Church is making every effort to protect their children. They should also know that they have every right to turn to the Church with full confidence, for it is a safe and secure home,” he said. Because of this, priority “must not be given to any other kind of concern, whatever its nature, such as the desire to avoid scandal, since there is absolutely no place in ministry for those who abuse minors.” Pope Francis also pointed to the Circular Letter of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, saying that every effort must be made to ensure that the letter’s provisions are put into practice. Published in May 2011, the letter lays out general guidelines and suggested procedures for handling cases of sexual abuse of minors perpetrated by clerics. The Roman Pontiff also encouraged episcopal conferences to develop “practical means” of having periodic reviews of their norms and ensuring that they are being followed. “It is the responsibility of Diocesan Bishops and Major Superiors to ascertain that the safety of minors and vulnerable adults is assured in parishes and other Church institutions,” he said, and urged recipients to respond to the needs of minors and vulnerable adults “with fairness and mercy.” As a means of communicating the Lord’s compassion to victims of abuse and their families, the Pope encouraged dioceses, institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life to identify and offer programs for pastoral care which include both psychological and spiritual assistance. “Pastors and those in charge of religious communities should be available to meet with victims and their loved ones,” he said. These meetings, the pontiff noted, provide “valuable opportunities for listening to those have greatly suffered and for asking their forgiveness.” The Bishop of Rome then asked presidents of episcopal conferences and superiors of institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life for their “close and complete cooperation” with the commission for minors. Having met with victims of sexual abuse by priests last July, the Pope closed his letter by praying that Mary would help the Church to “humbly acknowledge and repair past injustices and to remain ever faithful in the work of protecting those closest to the heart of Jesus.” Headed by Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors is composed of 17 members from all over the world, including American priest Mons. Robert W. Oliver. Mons. Oliver worked extensively with Cardinal O’Malley in handling cases of sexual abuse of minors by priests during the 2002 abuse crisis in the Boston archdiocese. Several professors and experts in psychology, law, and aid offered to those victimized by sexual abuse are among those working on the commission. With eight new members added last December, the complete commission will meet for the first time Feb. 6-8 in Rome, where it is expected that they will approve the draft of their statues.
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