Vatican Urged to Give Priority to Abuse Victims

By Elisabetta Povoledo
New York Times
February 7, 2012

At an international conference backed by the Vatican to discuss the prevention of sexual abuse of minors by the clergy, a psychologist said Tuesday that the church should listen to victims rather than focus their attention on priests accused of wrongdoing.

The psychologist, Msgr. Stephen J. Rossetti, an advocate for the prevention of child abuse, said about 95 percent of allegations were well founded.

“Child molesters must know that they have no safe sanctuary in our church,” he said in prepared remarks.

Monsignor Rossetti said he believed that church leaders — usually called on to deal with their own priests — should not handle such cases by themselves, but should consult legal and criminal experts to conduct investigations and advise bishops. All too often, offending priests have manipulated and lied to their superiors, he said.

But until now the Vatican has not embraced the notion of lay-review boards for pedophilia investigations, reaffirming bishops as the first arbiter in these cases. Last May, the Vatican, through its Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, called on bishops’ conferences worldwide to draft policies on the issue within the year.

Terence McKiernan, president of , said the conference was intended to “change the subject and look like progress.”

“The Vatican is afraid, and it has reason to be,” he said, in light of recent charges against the church, including a complaint filed against the Vatican with the International Criminal Court.

As cases of abuse prominently emerged in North America and several European countries over the past decade, the church was often slow and clumsy in its reactions. The fallout pushed the Vatican to adopt new responses, including the symposium.

Marie Collins, who was abused by a priest while a patient in a Dublin children’s hospital when she was 13, told the delegates on Tuesday that even though many priests had been brought to justice for their crimes, the church needed to acknowledge the responsibility of their superiors. In many cases, she said, they covered up or mishandled cases.

“I can forgive my abuser for his actions; he has admitted his guilt,” she said. “But how do I regain my respect for the leadership of the church? There must be acknowledgment and accountability.”

The conference, which began on Monday and runs for four days, drew about 200 delegates, more than half of them bishops but also victims, rectors of Catholic universities and religious superiors. Cardinal William J. Levada, who heads the Vatican office that deals with allegations of clerical abuse, said Monday in his keynote speech that over 4,000 cases of sexual abuse of minors had been reported to his office in the past decade as the church toughened its responses. “We are still learning,” he said. “We need to help each other find the best ways to help victims, protect children,” and to educate priests “to be aware of this scourge and to eliminate it from the priesthood.”








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