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Tackling the Sexual Abuse Crisis

The deep crisis we are in is a wake-up call, and above all, a provocation of the Holy Spirit calling for a profound renewal according to the Gospel.

One of the significant ecclesial events of the current year is happening this month at the Vatican with Church leaders from all over the world discussing for four days (February 21-24) the issue of “the protection of minors in the Church.”  

The summit was convoked by Pope Francis following increasing embarrassment worldwide with the publication of reports of new cases of sexual abuse of children by clergymen. 

Gathering from the pronouncements of both the pope and Fr. Hans Zollner, a member of the organizing committee of the meeting, it appears that the protection of children, the solidarity with victims of sexual abuse and the accountability of bishops in handling cases of abuse will be top priorities in the agenda. 

A new culture of responsibility and transparency is called for in the Church to tackle this crisis.  Since the first cases were reported in the United States in 2002, ecclesial authorities have defended the Church institution at the expense of the victims covering up allegations and moving the perpetrators to new places. 

Episcopal conferences and Pope Benedict XVI took measures to combat the scourge which proved to be efficacious in reducing the scale of abuses.  However, victims continued to come forward and new reports of sexual misconduct by bishops and priests came to light damaging the Church’s integrity. 

In his approach to the grave phenomenon, Pope Francis blames what he calls a culture of “clericalism” or abuse of power that betrays the divine vocation “to serve and not to be served.” It is a “vice” to be eradicated in the Church, says the pope. 

It is my conviction that the deep crisis we are in is a wake-up call, and above all, a provocation of the Holy Spirit calling for a profound renewal according to the Gospel. 

I conclude with the stern warning of Fr. Frederico Lombardi, SJ,  in an essay with the title “Preparing the Meeting of the Bishops on the Protection of Minors” published last December in the Catholic journal La Civilta Cattolica:  “If the problem (sexual abuse) is not fully confronted in all its aspects, the Church will continue to find itself facing one crisis after another, her credibility and that of priests will remain seriously wounded, but above all, what will suffer will be the substance of her mission to proclaim the Gospel and her educational work for children and young people.” 

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