Vatican: Abuse Scandal a Problem for Society

Spokesman Cautions Against a False Perspective

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VATICAN CITY, MARCH 9, 2010 ( The sexual abuse of minors by authorities in the Church is «particularly reprehensible,» a Vatican spokesman affirmed. But he cautioned against seeing the problem as only a Church issue, since the reality of abuse «is much broader» and extends to society as a whole.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of Vatican Radio, released today a statement about the reports of sexual abuse in the Church that continue to come to light. The latest scandal has particularly embroiled Germany since there has been a report of sexual abuse in the boys’ choir that would later be directed by the Pope’s brother, Monsignor Georg Ratzinger.

Father Lombardi noted that the Holy Father has already been involved in dealing with the scandal that arose some months ago in Ireland. The spokesman recalled the Pope’s meetings with that nation’s bishops, as well as the letter he is preparing for the Church in Ireland.

Now, Father Lombardi observed, the scandal has involved the Church in central Europe, including Austria and Holland, as well as Germany.

Regarding those nations, the spokesman said the main ecclesiastical institutions involved (including the three national episcopal conferences), have «faced the emergence of  [the] problem with timely and decisive action.»

He said they have «demonstrated their desire for transparency and, in a certain sense, accelerated the emergence of the problem by inviting victims to speak out, even when the cases involved date from many years ago.»

Father Lombardi said this was approaching the matter «on the right foot,» since the «correct starting point is recognition of what happened and concern for the victims and the consequences of the acts committed against them.»

The Church has also been re-examining its directives and is identifying a «prevention strategy, so that everything possible may be done to ensure that similar cases are not repeated in the future,» he added.

Bigger picture

Father Lombardi said the scandals «mobilize the Church to find appropriate responses,» but he proposed that they should be «placed in a more wide-ranging context that concerns the protection of children and young people from sexual abuse in society as a whole.»

He explained: «Certainly, the errors committed in ecclesiastical institutions and by Church figures are particularly reprehensible because of the Church’s educational and moral responsibility, but all objective and well-informed people know that the question is much broader, and concentrating accusations against the Church alone gives a false perspective.

«By way of example, recent data supplied by the competent authorities in Austria shows that, over the same period of time, the number of proven cases in Church institutions was 17, while there were 510 other cases in other areas. It would be as well to concern ourselves also with them.»

The spokesman lauded initiatives in Germany regarding a «round table» involving educational and social groups in order to «consider the question from an appropriate and comprehensive viewpoint.»

He assured that the Church would be ready to participate and suggested that «perhaps, her own painful experience may also be a useful contribution for others.»

Most serious crimes of all

The press office director added a clarification on the Church’s procedures for punishing those involved in sexual abuse. He noted that the Church has its own code, which does not provide for fines or imprisonment, but rather concerns impediments in exercising ministry and the privation of rights in the ecclesiastical field.
«In the ambit of canon law, the crime of the sexual abuse of minors has always been considered as one of the most serious of all, and canonical norms have constantly reaffirmed this,» he explained, particularly pointing to a 2001 letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (signed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger).

«Those who know and understand its contents [the 2001 letter], are aware that it was a decisive signal to remind the episcopate of the seriousness of the problem, as well as a real incentive to draw up operational guidelines to face it,» he said.

Positive results

Finally, Father Lombardi concluded by saying the «seriousness of the difficulties» facing the Church «cannot be denied.»

«[W]e must not fail to do everything possible,» he said, «in order to ensure that, in the end, they bring positive results, of better protection for infancy and youth in the Church and in society, and the purification of the Church herself.»

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