Healing a Wounded Church

Final Day of Symposium Addresses Theological, Moral, Pastoral Aspects of Clergy Sex Abuse

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By Ann Schneible 

ROME, FEB. 9, 2012 (Zenit.org).- “It is to this sinful, wounded Church, which allowed its garments to be rent, but healed by the wounds of the Crucified and Risen One, who has entrusted to us one again the proclamation of the Gospel and the task of bringing to all the perfume of Him Crucified and Risen.”

These words were spoken following Holy Mass on Wednesday, the evening before the final day of the symposium on clergy sex abuse that was held at the Pontifical Gregorian University, called Toward Healing and Renewal. 

Over the past four days, the symposium has candidly examined the crisis of child exploitation at the hands of clergy, bringing to light its complexity, proposing solutions, and, finally, giving voice to the victims. 

“At first glance, this crisis seems to be about explicitly sexual behavior only,” said Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle in his talk today about the state of the crisis in Asia. “But a closer look at the actual cases reveals that deep theological, spiritual, anthropological and pastoral cases are involved.”

Today’s discussions brought the symposium to a close by studying the crisis of child sex abuse from theological and pastoral perspectives, concluding with a concrete plan of action for eradicating clerical abuse of minors once and for all. 

Theological perspectives

In their presentation, Theological and Moral Reflections on Sexual Child Abuse in the Catholic Church, speakers Joseph Carola, Mark Rotsaert, Michelina Tenace, and H. Miguel Yáñez offered a study of abuse from theological and moral perspectives. 

“From the abuser’s viewpoint, in the case of a Christian with responsibilities within the Church, we must try to understand the reason for such a failure of freedom, the reason for such a denial of the Christian vocation. When evil expands, when sin attacks the Church from within, through scandal, as they ask themselves why, Christians should pray: Lord, have mercy on us! Lord, what are you trying to tell us? Which message of life and of truth do your justice and your mercy hold?”

Pastoral concerns 

The crisis has forced members of the Church to look at themselves with a sobering clarity, said Cardinal Reinhard Marx, who spoke on the Church, Abuse, and Pastoral Leadership.

“The debate of the last few years,” said the cardinal, “helped us realize just how great the temptation in the Church was — and is — to avoid facing this truth. There can be no doubt that in recent decades, when looking at incidents of abuse and mistreatment, many of those responsible saw the protection of institutions as a priority and so an attempt was made to hide the terrible truth rather than recognize it in all its bitterness. 

“What is more, a language that blurred lines and downplayed the facts further contributed to this. Those responsible largely thought from the point of view of protecting the institution, and priests were seen as representatives of this institution, so that accusations and charges against a priest were equated with an act of damage to the institution of the Church herself.”

However, the Church has within Herself to find healing, and bring about real change. “If we try to understand these events also on a spiritual level, then they can be a major impetus towards conversion and renewal, and so towards rebuilding credibility, step by step,” the cardinal said. “Dealing with the cases of abuse correctly and consistently and with the courage to be truthful can thus become an opportunity.”

Educating, supporting

As the symposium concluded, the Centre for Child Protection of the Institute of Psychology of the Pontifical Gregorian University was launched.

The Centre for Child Protection was founded as a cooperation between the Institute of Psychology of the Pontifical Gregorian University (Rome, Italy), the Department for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Psychotherapy of Ulm University Hospital (Germany), and the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising (Germany). Its main purpose is the creation of a global E-Learning training center in academic resources for the pastoral professions responding to the sexual abuse of minors, taking into account multilingual and intercultural issues. 

At present, the Centre for Child Protection has been established for three years (2012-2014) to develop and implement an E-Learning program totaling 30 hours, in four languages (English, Spanish, Italian, German). Eight partners throughout the world (in Argentina, Ecuador, Germany, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Italy and Kenya) will participate, taking an active role in participant recruitment, certification and the ongoing evaluation of the training program. Later on the training program will be open to other interested users worldwide.

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