Pope Urges "Profound Renewal" to Prevent Church Abuse

By Dario Thuburn
February 6, 2012

Pope Benedict XVI is seen at a Vespers ceremony on January 2 (AFP/File, Vincenzo Pinto)

Pope Benedict XVI urged "profound renewal" on every level of the Catholic Church to prevent child abuse, as a top cardinal conceded that canon law was not enough to deal with paedophilia.

"Healing for victims must be of paramount concern in the Christian community, and it must go hand in hand with a profound renewal of the Church at every level," the pope said in a statement released by the Vatican.

In his message to the 200 bishops, cardinals and academic experts taking part in the Vatican's first-ever conference on the issue, the pope also called for "a vigorous culture of effective safeguarding and victim support."

Catholic leaders from 100 countries were taking part in the closed-door four-day meeting, as well as the Vatican's anti-abuse prosecutor, Archbishop Charles Scicluna, and just one abuse victim, Ireland's Marie Collins.

Cardinal William Levada, the head of the Church's main enforcement body, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, opened the conference saying the Vatican had received more than 4,000 denunciations over the past decade.

The crisis had shown "on the one hand the inadequacy of an exclusively canon law response to this tragedy, and on the other necessity of a truly multi-faceted response," Levada said, according to a transcript of his speech.

He said his office did not just investigate the crimes any more but also provided advice on assisting victims, promoted programmes for protecting children and helped train future priests to prevent child abuse.

Levada also called for "a more pro-active approach" by national bishops' conferences, saying they often reacted only in response to media scandals.

Catholic clergy should "seek out the wounded and assure them that we have begun to recognise the depth of the betrayal they have suffered," he said.

The Vatican has requested that all the national bishops' conferences of the world must submit by May a set of comprehensive guidelines on how to combat paedophilia, stressing that abuse is not only a problem for Western churches.

Officials say some countries are having trouble formulating these rules because of "cultural differences" over what exactly constitutes child abuse as well as major differences between local laws in different countries.

Levada fought off complaints that the measures lack any real enforcement powers, saying that the Vatican "considers it an obligation for bishops and religious major superiors to participate in the development of these guidelines and to observe them for the good of the Church."

"No bishops or major superior may consider himself exempt," he said.

"The Church has an obligation to cooperate with the requirements of civil law regarding the reporting of such crimes," he added.

The conference will also launch a child protection centre in Germany to fight sex abuse by the clergy worldwide and include a penitential church service on Tuesday in which Catholic leaders will plead for forgiveness.

But victims' groups said they were not invited and slammed it as PR.

"You don't need a jolly in Rome to learn what the right thing to do is," said Sue Cox from Survivors Voice, a coalition of victim support groups covering Britain, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands and the United States.

"This is just a PR stunt. It's just theatre really. It's no use," Cox, herself a victim of abuse by a priest who says she still gets panic attacks from the smell of "whisky, incense and stale sweat", told AFP.

Roberto Mirabile, head of the Italian victims support group La Caramella Buona, said: "You can have all the symposiums you want but why don't you open a constructive debate. The Church is too closed in on itself."

Papal biographer Marco Politi said: "The meeting is a historic watershed because for the first time the Vatican is going to analyse on an international level the responsibility of the Church for child abuse."

"Is the Church ready to push for an investigation in each diocese.... or is the Vatican and Italian tendency of talking about the future without the hidden victims and files of the past 50 years going to win out?"

Bishops attending the meeting have been asked to hold "listening sessions" with abuse victims before travelling to Rome to help them understand and psychologists and child health experts will address the conference.

The Church has been rocked in recent years by thousands of paedophilia scandals, some of them dating back decades. They began to go public in Ireland and the United States but have since been reported across much of Europe.

Conference participants warned many abuses have remained hidden in Africa, Asia and Latin America and called for redoubled efforts in those countries.








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