Cardinal Levada: Bishops, Priests Must Hear Victims, Acknowledge Suffering

Doctrinal Congregation Prefect Addresses Symposium on Clergy Sex Abuse

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By Ann Schneible

ROME, FEB. 6, 2012 ( «There is no place in the priesthood and religious life for those who would harm the young.» These words, delivered by Blessed John Paul II in his 2002 address to American cardinals, remind priests and religious that it is a travesty to violate the trust of those in their care, especially when such a violation destroys the life of a child.

Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, cited these words by the former Pontiff during his speech to members of the international symposium «Toward Healing and Renewal,» which officially commenced today. 

In his presentation, «The Sexual Abuse of Minors: A Multi-faceted Response to the Challenge,» the cardinal briefly outlined the CDF’s role in addressing the abuse cases, with regard to the pastoral care of victims, protection of the young, and in the proper formation of clergy. 

«While the Congregation’s primary responsibility is the application of equitable norms in the discipline of guilty clergy,» said the cardinal, «it has necessarily made its own the expanded view of how best to assist in the healing of victims, of promoting programs for the protection of children and young people, of urging bishops to provide for the education of communities of faith to responsibility for their youth, and of working with other Dicasteries of the Holy See and Episcopal Conferences in ensuring the proper formation of today’s priests, and the priests of the future, in the various aspects related to the issues of sexual abuse on minors.»

Following the Pope’s lead

For victims of child sexual abuse, it is imperative that the pastoral care which they receive demonstrates a genuine respect for their suffering, the cardinal affirmed. «A first need [for victims] is to be heard,» he reflected,» to know that the Church listens to their stories of abuse, that the Church understands the gravity of what they have suffered, that she wants to accompany them on the often long path of healing, and that she has taken or is willing to take effective steps to ensure that other children will be protected from such abuse.»

The cardinal encouraged priests and bishops to emulate Benedict XVI who, during his pastoral visits throughout the world, has listened to the words of the victims of child sex abuse. «I think is it hardly possible to overestimate the importance of this example for us Bishops, and for us priests, in being available to victims for this important moment in their healing and reconciliation. It was after all at the hands of an anointed representative of the Church that they suffered this abuse. No wonder then that they tell us how important it is for them that the Church, now again through her anointed representatives, hears them, acknowledges their suffering, and helps them see the face of Christ’s true compassion and love.»

Formation of priests and religious

The cardinal reminded bishops and major superiors of religious orders that they must be scrupulously aware of «the need to exercise even greater scrutiny in accepting candidates for the priesthood and religious life, as well as providing formation programs that provide the necessary foundational human formation, including the appropriate formation in human sexuality.»

Cooperation with civil authority

Cardinal Levada also asserted that it is imperative that Church authorities approach abuse cases as crimes against the state as well as against canon law. «Certainly no less important than any of the other elements,» he said, «the cooperation of the Church with civil authorities in these cases recognizes the fundamental truth that the sexual abuse of minors is not only a crime in canon law, but is also a crime that violates criminal laws in most civil jurisdictions. … The Church has an obligation to cooperate with the requirements of civil law regarding the reporting of such crimes to the appropriate authorities.»

The objective of the symposium is to inform Catholic bishops and religious superiors on the resources available to confront this crisis effectively. In his closing remarks, Cardinal Levada expressed his hope that the symposium would be «a model for future studies that can help us all confront what we need to do as Church… [and] a source of expertise and hope for those who seek to eliminate the scourge of sexual abuse of minors from society at large.»

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