Pope orders cooperation in preventing abuse, caring for victims

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The leaders of the world’s bishops’ conferences and religious orders must ensure that they are doing everything possible to protect children and vulnerable adults from abuse and are offering appropriate care for victims and their families, Pope Francis said.

“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,” he said in a written letter.

People hold quilts at press conference in 2013 outside of Los Angeles cathedral for victims of sexual abuse by priests. (CNS photo/David McNew, Reuters)

People hold quilts at press conference in 2013 outside of Los Angeles cathedral for victims of sexual abuse by priests. (CNS photo/David McNew, Reuters)

The letter, dated Feb. 2, the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, was sent to the presidents of national bishops’ conferences worldwide and the superiors of religious orders. The Vatican released a copy of the letter Feb. 5, the feast of St. Agatha.

In his letter, the pope said, “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.”

With protecting minors as a top priority, the pope said he wants to encourage and promote the church’s commitment to protection and care “at every level — episcopal conferences, dioceses, institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life — to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure the protection of minors and vulnerable adults and to respond to their needs with fairness and mercy.”

He reminded church leaders they were expected to fully implement the provisions in the 2011 circular letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith requiring all dioceses in the world to develop guidelines on handling allegations of abuse.

“It is likewise important that episcopal conferences establish a practical means for periodically reviewing their norms and verifying that they are being observed,” he wrote.

The pope underlined that it was “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.”

The church also has the “duty to express the compassion of Jesus toward those who have suffered abuse and toward their families,” which is why dioceses and religious orders should set up pastoral care programs “which include provisions for psychological assistance and spiritual care.”

Priests and heads of religious communities “should be available to meet with victims and their loved ones; such meetings are valuable opportunities for listening to those who have greatly suffered and for asking their forgiveness,” he wrote.

The pope said he established in December 2013 the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors to draw up ways the church could improve its norms and procedures for protecting children and vulnerable adults.

This commission, led by U.S. Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston and made up of survivors and lay experts in the field, is meant to be “a new, important and effective means for helping me to encourage and advance the commitment of the church at every level” in taking concrete steps to ensure greater abuse protection and care, he said.

The pope then asked for the “close and complete cooperation” of the world’s bishops’ conferences and religious orders with the commission for the protection of minors, whose duties include assisting church leaders in “an exchange of best practices and through programs of education, training and developing adequate responses to sex abuse.”

The pope asked for prayers that the church “carry out, generously and thoroughly, our duty to humbly acknowledge and repair past injustices and to remain ever faithful in the work of protecting those closest to the heart of Jesus.”

Pope, on plane to Germany, says abuse scandal has driven some from church

ON THE PAPAL FLIGHT TO GERMANY — Pope Benedict XVI met with reporters this morning aboard the papal plane to Germany. He answered four questions: one in German and three in Italian.

The pope was asked about the number of German Catholics formally renouncing their membership in the church. He said people leave for a number of reasons and the formal declaration often is the last step in a long process of moving away from the Catholic community.

Some, he said, have left because of the revelation of “terrible scandals” involving clerical sexual abuse, especially if the scandals have affected people close to them.

He said the church is “the Lord’s net” and like any fisherman’s net, there can be bad fish. Catholic leaders need to explain and help people understand the nature of the church as the people of God and “learn to withstand even these scandals and work against these scandals from the inside.”

Pope Benedict, who has been in Rome for some 30 years, was asked if he still feels German. He said, yes, a person’s cultural roots can’t be cut easily and, besides, most of the books he reads are written in German.

Asked about the planned protests in Germany during his visit, the pope said they were normal in a secularized, democratic society.

But, he said, there are also “great expectations and great love for the pope in Germany.”

The pope added that in many sectors of the German population, there is a growing sense of a need for a moral voice in society.

Confronting sex abuse rage: a priest’s story

Sexual abuse among members of the clergy and other church leaders has raised its head again in recent stories. It’s seldom out of the news these days, it seems, just some days more than others.

Too often the media is so busy trying to cover how the church is responding to the crisis, how courts and legislatures are prosecuting and how victims are trying to cope and recover, we can overlook or under-report the toll it takes on church leaders — and the rank and file — who reel almost daily from the onslaught.

Father Doyle

Father Kenneth J. Doyle wrote recently in the Feb. 11 issue of the Times Union of Albany, N.Y., about his own feelings of anger and frustration with a former priest whose trial for raping two young boys just concluded.

“Why am I ashamed since nothing I did myself led to this tragedy?” he asked. “I am ashamed because someone in my own family of faith — a brother priest, no less — would commit these acts of cruelty. And I am deeply saddened because this whole sordid saga has damaged the family of faith, the Catholic Church that I love.”

Father Doyle is the pastor of Mater Christi parish in Albany, and chancellor for public information of the Diocese of Albany. He also is no stranger to reporting. Father Doyle is the former Rome bureau chief for Catholic News Service. He blogged for CNS during the 2009-2010 Year for Priests.

Pope Benedict XVI has spoken repeatedly during his pontificate on the toll the sexual abuse crisis has taken on all of the faithful — clergy and laity alike — and that no matter how painful it is, we have to move to a point of healing, Father Doyle piece heart-achingly echoes that lament, but ends in a resolve that he, as a priest, has to “keep on doing what [he was] called to do.”

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