In the Vineyard :: March 25, 2022 :: Volume 22, Issue 6
A VOTF Retrospective: 20 Years of Workon Protecting Our Children
By Patricia T. Gomez, Ph.D., VOTF Board Member, Co-Chair Protection of Children Working Group
Twenty years have passed since the public exposé of clergy sexual abuse within the Catholic Church by the Boston Globe Spotlight Team. And it is 20 years since the foundation of Voice of the Faithful and the Protection of Children Working Group in response to those revelations.
Immediate reaction to the horror of child abuse within our church spurred us into action: listening to victims’ stories, supporting victims of clergy abuse in their journey of recovery, and working to create and maintain safe environments for children and vulnerable adults in our faith communities. The Protection of Children (POC) working group continues its mission to ensure safety of children today; in the past few years members have been working on an analysis of diocesan safe environments by reviewing diocesan website postings.
Early in the history of VOTF the POC team identified the ongoing need to raise awareness and educate adults and children on abuse prevention measures in parish communities. We worked with local and national organizations to promote abuse prevention training. Over the years POC members engaged in conversations with many abuse prevention organizations, including consultations with the chairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ National Review Board on dispersing prevention information and tips for parents and adults on perpetrator grooming behaviors.
We also consulted with researchers at the University of New Hampshire Crimes Against Children Research Center. Through these and other efforts we came to understand that, to truly protect children in our parish communities, changes must occur at the local level. To that effect, the POC team created helpful hints to aid parishes in education and awareness efforts. Our Safety Sunday project, for example, provides short tips for publication in parish bulletins, especially during the month of April, which has been designated National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Many parish safe environment coordinators have continued to utilize the resources found on our Child Protection webpages.
Maintaining safe environments in our parishes is a strong prevention measure against potential abuse, but in recent years POC members have noted a de-emphasis on this key program. This de-emphasis diverts us from the shame and horror that abuse of children occurred and persisted for so many years in our churches. Timely reminders to remain vigilant are needed. For example, the annual observance in April of National Child Abuse Prevention month in the United States should be promoted in every diocese as a reminder of the ongoing necessity to protect the children and the vulnerable among us. Does your diocese promote this annual observance?
The responses of many bishops to cases of clergy sexual abuse over the past 20 years were designed to protect the institution at the expense of sacrificing the well-being of victims of clergy abuse. But ultimately such posturing has sacrificed the image and future of the institution. Clergy sexual abuse still resonates within the Church today because the faulty structures that allowed this abuse to occur and to be covered up still exist. The fact is: the institution has been damaged. It is time for the hierarchy to be held accountable to their own mandates for safe environments and abuse prevention measures. And it is time to enforce diocesan standards of prevention and safe environments in our parishes.
What can you do? The POC team encourages you to look into abuse prevention measures posted on your diocese’s website. Are these measures comprehensive and carried out in your parish or faith community? It is time for us in the pews to evaluate diocesan child protection measures to determine whether they are lived out in local parish communities.
During this month of April, dedicated to educate and raise awareness of the need to protect children from predators in every environment, VOTF members recall our outrage at the injustice served on victims of clergy sexual abuse, their families, and communities. We recall the shame we feel at the failure of leadership to protect our children. We support the call from Hans Zollner, S.J., president of the Centre for Child Protection in Rome, for forceful implementation of changes in church law introduced by Pope Francis and his predecessors, especially the 2019 motu propio, Vos Estis Lux Mundi (America Magazine, Feb 4, 2022).
We also call for the enforcement of standards set in the U.S. bishops’ 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and the Essential Norms for Diocesan/Eparchial Policies Dealing with Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests or Deacons. And we call for change in the faulty structures and attitudes that foment clericalism, especially the insular and authoritarian culture fostered in many dioceses.
VOTF has focused on supporting survivors, promoting parish safe environment efforts, and calling for structural change in the governance of the Church for 20 years. And our work continues!
Following the example of the VOTF Finance Working Group, the most recent work by the POC Working Group investigated how the church as institution presents its efforts to prevent abuse and responds to those abused. Over the past three years, the POC team developed a comprehensive set of questions for reviewing diocesan websites to assess efforts of bishops in every diocese. We recently completed the website review for diocesan Child Protection and Safe Environment efforts and scored performances of the 177 dioceses in the U.S. A link to the detailed findings from that review will be available shortly on the VOTF’s Child Protection webpage.
Ongoing Child Protection Efforts
Results of our review indicate the need to enhance diocesan child protection policies and safe environment measures. Actions by all are essential to keep children safe in our church communities:
- Clearly stated, publicly available, and comprehensive diocesan guidelines for safe environments provide measurable standards that can be modeled in parishes and are essential to prevent further child abuse.
- The USCCB can more frequently update their Charter and Norms.
- The USCCB National Review Board should more closely monitor compliance with the bishops’ own standards for child protection by augmenting annual audits.
VOTF will continue to monitor diocesan child protection measures on an annual basis.
Parishioners have a key role in ensuring the protection of children in our parishes. We need to work with diocesan and parish safe environment personnel to bolster child protection guidelines at the diocesan level and ensure that safety measures are carried out in their faith communities. Alive in the life of Jesus, the entire People of God can transform into a sacramental community where children, youth, and the vulnerable are nurtured and protected in safe environments.
An Updated Vatican Constitution: Opening Up to Lay People
Released on March 19th, Pope Francis’s apostolic constitution “Praedicate Evanglium,” or “Proclaiming the Gospel,” is the culmination of nine years of work and is one of the most consequential actions Pope Francis has taken in his pontificate. “Praedicate Evanglium” consolidates several offices, opens major roles to laity and urges greater decentralization, concludes Fr. Thomas Reese, who hopes there is more reform to come.
Vatican offices will no longer be limited to ordained priests, bishops, and cardinals, the document says; now, any believer, regardless of gender, can hold an office in the Vatican. This reform aligns with Pope Francis’s other reforms, as he pushes to make the church more about the laity and less about the clerical power of priests and other ordained leaders.
Rev. Gianfranco Ghirlanda, a top canon lawyer, says “It’s an important affirmation because it makes clear that the person who heads a dicastery … doesn’t have authority based on the hierarchical level achieved, but by the power received by the Roman Pontiff to act in his name. This confirms that the power of governance in the church doesn’t come from the sacrament of Holy Orders, but from the canonical mission” of every baptized Catholic.
Currently, major Vatican offices, known as dicasteries, are all headed by men, although some are laymen. Francis has appointed several women, both lay and religious, to high-ranking offices in the Vatican but none to the major offices thus far.
It did not take long, of course, for the document to spark controversy among those who say that it was hastily done–despite the nine years of preparation. Another aspect of the controversy is that the document was released without being previously announced and was released only in Italian. Typically, papal documents are provided to accredited journalists in a variety of languages under embargo until the official release. Matteo Bruni, spokesman for the Vatican, emphasized that this is a unique document and that it was released on the Feast of St. Joseph and the ninth anniversary of Francis’ installation as pope.
“Praedicate Evanglium” in many ways delivers on the promise on which Francis was elected in 2013. He said he would reform the Vatican bureaucracy, and the new apostolic constitution does that. “Praedicate Evanglium” also updates a previous version of the founding constitution entitled “Pastor Bonus” written by St. John Paul II in 1988.
In addition to opening the dicasteries to wider and more meaningful lay participation, the new apostolic constitution also emphasizes that the staff in the Vatican should reflect the geographic universality of the church. Other changes include reforms for “healthy decentralization” where local bishops have more authority, on matters other than “doctrine, discipline, and communion.” This decentralization also takes the form of regular group meetings between heads of Vatican offices and Pope Francis, making it function like a cabinet meeting with a head of state. These changes all work towards a more collaborative and involved leadership process.
One major change, however, was met with some concern by survivors of clergy sexual abuse. The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors was formerly an ad hoc commission, reporting directly to the Pope although it had no institutional weight or power. It is now part of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith–a new name for the old Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which often clashed with the Pontifical Commission and failed to adopt some recommended improvements. Noted survivor and advocate Marie Collins said the move will undermine the Commission’s independence.
However, Cardinal Sean O’Malley said, “For the first time, Pope Francis has made safeguarding and the protection of minors a fundamental part of the structure of the church’s central government: the Roman Curia. Maintaining its status as a separate body with the dicastery that enjoys direct access to the Holy Father and with its own leadership and staffing, the renewed and re-affirmed Pontifical Commission will play an increasingly incisive role in ensuring the church is a safe place for children and vulnerable persons.” O’Malley is the head of the pontifical commission.
For VOTF’s position on clericalism, please see here.
Vatican Financial Reforms in Light of Cardinal Becciu’s Trial
Cardinal Angelo Becciu, one of several defendants in the financial scandal trial still ongoing in the Vatican, testified last week that he donated 125,000 euros to a Sardinian diocese for charitable purposes, acknowledging that his brother, Antonio Becciu, was the legal representative of the charitable arm of the diocese. Cardinal Angelo Becciu is one of 10 defendants in a trial focused on those who have allegedly defrauded the Vatican out of millions of euros. The main scandal at the heart of the trial involves the London real estate deal costing 350 million euros, but several other embezzlement cases were folded into the trial, including Becciu’s. Much of the money lost came from donations from the faithful.
Earlier this month, Pope Francis said “the church must be exemplary and irreproachable, especially on the part of those who hold important roles of responsibility” in the realms of financial management and transparency. He spoke at the formal opening of the Vatican’s judicial year, and he thanked the members of the court for the “dedication with which they engage in the delicate service of the administration of justice.” The work of the Vatican court, particularly in this financial trial, will test Francis’ commitment to financial reform and illustrate the extent of the actual changes in the Vatican in terms of financial transparency and accountability.
His comments also addressed other reforms. He expressed that he hopes for further changes “in the area of criminal procedure and international cooperation,” including protections and supports for “the weakest and most fragile.”
For VOTF’s statement on financial accountability, please see here.
Pope Francis’ “24 Hours for the Lord”
The annual “24 Hours for the Lord” Lenten penitential service took place in St. Peter’s Basilica as the Church marked the feast of the Annunciation. Pope Francis prayed the Act of Consecration of humanity, naming Russia and Ukraine, to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Pope Francis explained “This is no magic formula but a spiritual act. It is an act of complete trust on the part of children who, amid the tribulation of this cruel and senseless war that threatens our world, turn to their Mother, reposing all their fears and pain in her heart and abandoning themselves to her.”
The ceremony referenced a prophecy over a century old that concerned peace and Russia, sparked by visions that three peasant children in Fatima, Portugal, reported having in 1917. According to tradition, two Portuguese siblings and their cousin said the Virgin Mary appear to them three times, revealing three secrets. The first two secrets described the end of World War I and the beginning of World War II, and foretold the rise and fall of communism in the Soviet Union. The third secret, which was disclosed in 2000, predicted the May 13, 1981, assassination attempt against St. John Paul II. Lucia, the cousin in the original tradition, became a nun and wrote that Russia would be converted to Catholicism and there would be peace if all of the bishops in the world, and the Pope, consecrated Russia to the “Immaculate Heart of Mary.” She later claimed that the prophecy was fulfilled in a Mass said by John Paul on March 25th, 1984, although he did not specify Russia. Pope Francis’ ceremony at the feast of the Annunciation corrected that omission, and bishops around the world joined the prayers.
Pope releases Vatican reform, gives weight to fighting abuse
“Pope Francis released his long-awaited reform program of the Holy See bureaucracy on Saturday (Mar. 19) that envisages greater decision-making roles for the laity and gives new institutional weight to efforts to fight clerical sex abuse. The 54-page text, titled ‘Praedicate Evanglium,’ or ‘Proclaiming the Gospel,’ replaces the founding constitution ‘Pastor Bonus’ that was penned by St. John Paul II in 1988.” By Nicole Winfield, Associated Press
- Pope Francis announces major overhaul of Roman Curia, By Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service, in America: The Jesuit Review
- Curia reform ‘model for lay participation,’ By CathNews.com
- Vatican reforms hailed as breakthrough for laity, despite open questions, By Christopher White, National Catholic Reporter
- Vatican explains new reform of Roman Curia, with evangelization at its core, By Inés San Martin, Cruxnow.com
Spain parliament approves independent investigation into Catholic Church sexual abuse cases
“The Spanish Parliament voted Thursday (Mar. 10) overwhelmingly in favor of a proposal to create an independent commission to investigate alleged Catholic Church sexual abuses of minors. Spain’s ombudsperson is set to chair the commission. The final vote count consisted of 286 votes in favor, 51 votes against and two abstentions. Spain’s Catholic Church has been under investigation on multiple fronts since a report from El Pais newspaper revealed 1,237 cases of sexual abuse within the church. Since then, the Catholic Church opened an investigation, lawmakers opened an inquiry, and the Attorney General launched an investigation.” By Lauren Ban, Jurist: Legal News & Commentary
1st German Catholic diocese allows women to perform baptisms
“The Roman Catholic Diocese of Essen has become the first in Germany to allow women to perform baptisms, citing a lack of priests. The diocese said in a statement Monday (Mar. 14) that Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck tasked 18 lay ministers —17 of them women — with conferring the sacrament of admission into the Church at a ceremony over the weekend. Until now only priests and deacons – functions the Catholic Church reserves for men – were allowed to perform baptisms.” By the Associated Press on ABCNews.com
For the synod to succeed, the church must listen to all of us
“As the synodal consultation process gets underway, I’ve heard from several diocesan lay leaders throughout the country about how concerned they are that this process will not be inclusive. Many fear that only a single group of people, primarily from leadership councils in parishes and dioceses, will be asked for input during this initial stage. Others share how parishes continue to serve only the dominant group in the community and are not inclusive of all cultural communities. What is painfully obvious is the lack of diversity in areas of leadership and the lack of centering the experiences of those parishioners at the margins.” By Milton Javier Bravo, U.S. Catholic
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