The third day of the Summit on the Protection of Minors in the Church, Feb. 21-24, 2019, focused on transparency, with calls from African bishops who said, like the Prodigal Son, we bishops must come clean and start over, and women, lay and religious, who said no more hypocrisy.
Archbishop of Tamale, Philip Naameh, President of the Episcopal Conference of Ghana, gave the homily at the Penitential Celebration which took place at 5:30 this afternoon, in the Sala Regia of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace.
The African bishop reflected on the Gospel of the Prodigal Son, noting how they as bishops “readily forget to apply this scripture to ourselves, to see ourselves as we are, namely as prodigal sons.”
“Just like the prodigal son in the Gospel, we have also demanded our inheritance, got it, and now we are busy squandering it,” he said, noting the current abuse crisis is an expression of this.
The Lord has entrusted us with the management of the goods of salvation, he trusts that we will fulfil his mission, proclaim the Good News, and help to establish the kingdom of God. But what do we do? Do we do justice to what is entrusted to us?” he asked, lamenting: “We will not be able to answer this question with a sincere yes, beyond all doubts.”
Too Often We Have Kept Quiet
“Too often we have kept quiet, looked the other way, avoided conflicts – we were too smug to confront ourselves with the dark sides of our Church. We have thereby squandered the trust placed in us – especially with regard to abuse within the area of responsibility of the Church, which is primarily our responsibility. We have not afforded people the protection they are entitled to, have destroyed hopes, and people were massively violated in both body and soul.”
The Archbishop reminded that the prodigal son in the Gospel loses everything – not only his inheritance, but also his social status, his good standing, his reputation. “We should not be surprised if we suffer a similar fate, if people talk badly about us, if there is distrust toward us, if some threaten to withdraw their material support.”
Arcbishop Naameh stated we should not complain about this, but instead ask what we should do differently. “No one can exempt themselves, nobody can say: but I have personally not done anything wrong. We are a brotherhood, we bear responsibility not only for ourselves, but also for every other member of our brotherhood, and for the brotherhood as a whole.”
Situation Changes & Improves When You Come Clean & Accept Consequences
What must we do differently, and where should we start? Let us look again at the prodigal son in the Gospel. “For him, the situation starts to take a turn for the better when he decides to be very humble, to perform very simple tasks, and not to demand any privileges.
“His situation changes as he recognizes himself, and admits to having made a mistake, confesses this to his father, speaks openly about it, and is ready to accept the consequences,” and as a result, he observed, the Father experiences great joy at the return of his prodigal son, and facilitates the brothers’ mutual acceptance.
“Can we also do this? Are we willing to do so? The current meeting will reveal this, must reveal this, if we want to show that we are worthy sons of the Lord, our Heavenly Father.”
Meeting Is One Step of Many
While there is “a long road ahead of us, to actually implement all of this sustainably in an appropriate manner,” and we have made progress, even if “attained [at] different speeds,” the bishop noted that this current meeting was “only one step of many.”
The African prelate noted that just because we have begun to change something together, that does not mean all difficulties have thereby been eliminated.
“As with the son who returns home in the Gospel, everything is not yet accomplished – at the very least, he must still win over his brother again. We should also do the same: win over our brothers and sisters in the congregations and communities, regain their trust, and re-establish their willingness to cooperate with us, to contribute to establishing the kingdom of God.”
At the same penitential liturgy, an abuse survivor spoke to the bishops, which was not anticipated in the program, and played the violin. Later, Director of the Holy See Press Office, Alessandro Gisotti, told journalists, including ZENIT, present in the Holy See Press Office: “The victim was Chilean and lives in Kuwait. He played Bach [on the Violin], and the Holy Father will received him later in Santa Marta, to speak a bit with him.”
Earlier in the day, there were three discourses, all centered on the third day’s theme of transparency. The first and second days were dedicated to responsibility and transparency, respectively.
Courage to Change Your Mind, Don’t Downplay
The first was given by Sister Veronica Openibo, who condemned abuse and coverup, and stressed that: “In some parts of the world, like Africa and Asia, saying nothing is a terrible mistake.” She also stressed that even if countries and certain areas are living through situations of war and conflict, that this –while terrible–is not a reason “to downplay” sexual abuse in those places.
Referring to when Pope Francis initially defended a Chilean bishop guilty of covering up for Karadima, but then later corrected himself, and accepted his resignation, she said: “I admire you, Brother Francis, for taking time as a true Jesuit to discern and be humble enough to change your mind, to apologize and take action — an example for us all.”
Necessary to Redefine Confidentiality and Secrecy
Cardinal Reinhard Marx, in his address that followed addressed traceability and transparency, observed that “the thoughts of some abuse victims can be summarised as follows: ‘If the Church claims to act in the name of Jesus, yet I am treated so badly by the Church or its administration, then I would also like to have nothing to do with this Jesus.'”
Calling for concreteness, he stressed: “it is necessary to redefine confidentiality and secrecy and to distinguish them from data protection. If we do not succeed, we either squander the chance to maintain a level of self-determination regarding information, or we expose ourselves to the suspicion of covering up.”
The German Cardinal who is one of the Pope’s advisor’s also made the following recommendations:
‘…In view of the urgency of the topic… the most important measures should be initiated immediately. These may include the following:
1. Definition of the goal and the limits of pontifical secrecy:
The social changes of our time are increasingly characterized by changing communication patterns. In the age of social media, in which each and every one of us can almost immediately establish contact and exchange information via Facebook, Twitter, etc., it is necessary to redefine confidentiality and secrecy and to distinguish them from data protection. If we do not succeed, we either squander the chance to maintain a level of self-determination regarding information, or we expose ourselves to the suspicion of covering up.
2. Transparent procedural norms and rules for ecclesiastical processes: Court proceedings as legal remedies are meaningless without adequate legal and procedural rules, as this would be tantamount to arbitrariness when it comes to passing judgments. This would represent a lack of transparency in relation to the specific actions. Establishing transparent procedural norms and rules for ecclesiastical processes is essential. Yesterday, in our group a bishop said – not from Europe – about that their civil law administration was better than others; it could be. The Church must not operate below the quality standards of public administration of justice if it doesn’t want to face criticism that it has an inferior legal system, which is harmful to people.
3. Public announcement of statistics on the number of cases, and details thereof, as far as possible, and according also to the laws of the State:
Institutional mistrust leads to conspiracy theories regarding an organization, and the formation of myths about an organization. This can be avoided if the facts are set out transparently. We have to look on the legal framework on the data protection that is clear, but when you give the impression “we hide something”, in our culture that will not be successful at the end.
4. Publication of judicial proceedings:
Proper legal proceedings serve to establish the truth and form the basis for imposing a punishment which is appropriate for the relevant offense. People in the Church have also to see how this judge comes to the sentence and what is the sentence; nearly all are secret, we can not see this. I think that in our situation it is not good. In addition, they establish trust in the organization and its leadership. Lingering doubts about the proper conduct of court proceedings only harm the reputation and the functioning of an institution. This principle also applies to the Church…’
This afternoon’s discourse, before the Penitential Liturgy, was given by Mexican journalist Valentina Alazraki, who has been covering the Vatican for 40 years and covered no less than 150 papal trips. She said she was speaking to them as a mother.
She told the prelates: “Report things when you know them. Of course, it will not be pleasant, but it is the only way, if you want us to believe you when you say: ‘from now on we will no longer tolerate cover ups.’
Alazraki also gave them a strong warning: “If you do not decide in a radical way to be on the side of the children, mothers, families, civil society, you are right to be afraid of us, because we journalists, who seek the common good, will be your worst enemies.”
Today, there was also a press conference in the afternoon, during which President of the Maltese Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Charles Scicluna, the Pope’s trusted investigator of clerical sexual abuse, seemed to suggest that the pontifical secret in abuse cases is being reconsidered: “There is a movement, [to] not bind these procedures with a top heavy level of confidentiality.”