February 15, 2019

Christ the Cornerstone

A global response to protecting our children from sexual abuse

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

In less than one week, representatives from every conference of Catholic bishops throughout the world will meet with Pope Francis to discuss the worldwide problem of sexual abuse of children. The pope’s intention is to arrive at a common understanding of how dioceses should protect children, respond to the needs of victims, and ensure that these crimes are not covered up but are adjudicated lawfully.

This is an incredible undertaking. Never before has any worldwide organization attempted to develop policies and procedures specifically designed to address the problem of sex abuse. It’s only right that our Church should take this step. In spite of the fact that sexual abuse occurs everywhere—including families, schools, youth organizations, churches and many other places where children gather—there is something especially wrong (sinful, criminal and reprehensible) about the abuse of children by bishops and priests who were ordained to nurture and protect all God’s children.

According to Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich, who serves on the organizing committee of this historic meeting scheduled for Feb. 21–24 on the topic of “The Protection of Minors in the Church,” Pope Francis has made it clear that this will be an assembly of pastors, not an academic conference. The aim is to provide clear direction and concrete steps so that when the bishops return to their home dioceses, they will know exactly what the Church expects of them regarding the prevention of abuse, the need to provide care for victim-survivors and the obligation to make sure abuse is not covered up.

We know that the media will shine an intense spotlight on this gathering. Expectations will likely be too great, and the outcomes will certainly not satisfy the desires of everyone on all sides of the ideological spectrum.

What should we expect—realistically—from this unprecedented assembly of pastors? According to Cardinal Cupich, “As the organizing committee develops the agenda, we will focus on the following elements: penitential prayer, to establish in sincere conversion, as an unavoidable reference point, true awareness of the suffering and damage suffered by the victims; reflection on the real situation, seen directly and unambiguously and with sufficient information about what has been done and what has not yet been done to face up to it; exchange in working groups and in moments of shared reflection on the actual tasks that need to be adopted, and on the ways to verify they have been put into place and are efficacious; the sharing of best practices already put into action for the reform of relations within the Church; and for the spread of a true culture of protection of minors in the Church and in society.”

When the bishops return home after this four-day meeting, they will know what the Church expects of them as the presidents of their respective bishops’ conferences. It will then be up to them to lead other bishops by their example and by their pastoral guidance in the implementation of reforms suited to their own social, cultural and legal circumstances.

Cardinal Cupich points out that this meeting is a stage along the painful journey the Church has taken for decades. He urges us to keep in mind lessons that have already been learned, especially in the United States, including:

  • The need to make victim-survivors our first priority.
  • The importance of rigorous reforms in the selection and formation of future priests.
  • The role of the media in helping to ensure transparency and accountability.
  • The criminal nature of sexual abuse and the requirements of justice for victim-survivors.

Here in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, we take these “lessons learned” very seriously. Much positive change has been made in recent years, for which we should all be deeply grateful.

But much still needs to be done in order for us to maintain our commitment to the protection of our most vulnerable members, and to achieve justice for all who have been harmed by us in any way.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, who will represent us at the Vatican next week in his role as president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, will take with him the significant work done by the bishops in preparation for our meeting last November. Although we were not able to vote on the various actions that were discussed, the proposals for additional protections for minors and structures for accountability of bishops represent our commitment to real change.

The Church in central and southern Indiana welcomes the help and advice we will receive following next week’s meeting at the Vatican. We’re confident that Cardinal DiNardo will return home with “concrete steps” that we can take along with dioceses in every corner of the globe.

May our Blessed Mother intercede for us all as we continue this painful journey of healing and hope. †

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