Interview with Daniel Portillo, Coordinator of the Book ‘Theology and Prevention,’ in the Matter of Sexual Abuses

Prologue by Pope Francis

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The book “Theology and Prevention: Interdisciplinary Theological Study on the Prevention of Abuses in the Church,” will see the light in September. It proposes a new challenge: to start from theological science to prevent this evil of our time in the ecclesial realm.

Interviewed exclusively by Zenit, Father Daniel Portillo Trevizo, Coordinator of the book and Founder and Director of the Interdisciplinary Research and Formation Center for the Protection of Minors (CEPROME), points out that, with this work, published by Sal Terrae, we would like to “develop a different view on the theology of abuses, but especially a perspective on the theology of prevention so necessary in our Church today.”

The Mexican priest directs the Latin American Council for the Protection of Minors. He is a full-time Professor at the Pontifical University of Mexico and a guest Professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University.

Prologue by the Pope

 Pope Francis received the news of the Book’s publication with “joy and hope.” So much so that he wrote a few words for the Prologue by hand, stating that we are “challenged to look at this conflict head-on, to assume and suffer it together with the victims, their relatives and the whole community, to find ways that make us say: never again to the culture of abuse.”

The Holy Father points out that this reality “calls us to work on raising awareness, on prevention and on the culture of care and protection of our communities and of society in general, so that no person sees his/her integrity and dignity menaced or mistreated.

To fight against abuses, the Holy Father says, is to ”propitiate and empower communities capable of protecting and proclaiming that every life deserves to be respected and valued, especially that of the most vulnerable, who do not have the means to make their voice heard.”

Father Portillo surrounded himself for this project with the best team of experts in the Church in the matter of abuses. In addition to himself, taking part in this endeavor were ten experts in abuses of other nationalities, primarily Latin Americans, and an Irish priest, all experts in Theology and Pastoral Care, and in the matter of abuses in the ecclesial realm.

Eleven Experts in Abuses

 They are the Mexican priests Jesus M. Aguinaga, Federico Altbach Nunez, Benjamin Clariond Domene, A. Ernesto Palafox; German presbyter Carlos Schickendantz, specialist in Latin American Theology and resident in Chile; Auxiliary Bishop Luis Manuel Ali Herrera of Bogota, Colombia; lay faithful Sandra Arenas (Chile), Cesar Kuzma (Brazil), Rafael Luciani (Venezuela), and Irish priest with a Doctorate in Theology Eamon Conway (Ireland).

The book on “Theology and Prevention” is addressed “to all those persons who have a concern for Theology, who are dedicated to the science of Theology and persons who have made a study and want to know more about sexual abuses and, specifically, those committed within the Church,” says its Editor.

He believes that the publication of the book will imply “a willingness to work on the subject of sexual abuses now no longer from the different branches of the human sciences, the psychological <and> sociological sciences, but to assume responsibility, beginning also from the theological science, as a very necessary, important and specific focus, which we must evoke today.”

So Father Portillo reveals that the authors haven’t kept anything for themselves; on the contrary, they have made “a vow of freedom” in the way they have attempted to write, to transmit all that they wish to manifest from the faith, he explains. “Our faith itself exacts from us how we must make an effort to transmit each one of our reflections, which we have written with all freedom in all the articles.”

Fruits of the Meeting on the Protection of Minors

 After the meeting held in the Vatican in February of 2019 on the protection of minors in the Church, Father Portillo points out some fruits that are already being gathered. “I believe the most important fruit is prevention in the perspective of synodality, that is, to assume together the commitment to respond jointly to this reality, in a way that can be assessed from different focuses. It’s no longer a local Church, a congregation that suffers abuse, but also a Catholic Church, a Church that tries to respond jointly.”

Also important is the role of the laity, particularly of women, within these itineraries, <these> paths, “which we will try to build little by little,” says the new book’s Coordinator, as well as joint work, synergy between the different Episcopal Conferences and Religious Congregations.”

Challenge for the Future

 The expert in the prevention of ecclesial abuses, says that he misses “the unity of the competent entities to address these problems,” as a challenge for the future. “I miss the integration in which each person or entity can collaborate from a particular focus, that it, sometimes a certain leadership of an entity seems evident, which does not generate the possibility to establish a certain connection with the rest.”

And he specifies: “I am referring, for example, to the unity between the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith with the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, with the <Vatican> Secretariat of State, as well as with the other Dicasteries; with that of the Religious, of the Laity . . . it seems that there is talk of prevention in the Church, there is talk on the apparent common front but missing is the unity of the entities that at present are at the apex (so to speak) of the Church, so that it’s not so easy to orchestrate the efforts.”

The Laity’s Commitment

 Chilean Sandra Arenas, Doctor in Systematic Theology from the Catholic University of Leuven, Dean of Religious Sciences and Philosophy of the Catholic University of Temuco and Professor of the Faculty of Theology of the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, points in the book to “De-Clericalization <as> Antidote for Abuses in the Church.”

In conversation with Zenit, she specified that an attempt is made “to overcome this model of the clerical Church with unhealthy asymmetric relations of power, which have been identified as causes of this culture of abuses and its cover-up.” In her opinion, “we lay men and women must commit ourselves to a critical revision of the model of the Church, which has been shown to be completely spent.”

And “how can this commitment be carried out? — she asks. By coming out of the “paternalist logic, in the first place, waiting passively for solutions to come from above; to be more proactive with initiatives of grass-roots conversations that include all voices — this is very important, the voices of children, overcoming the ecclesial ‘adult nature,” the voices of young people, of women, of the whole ecclesial membership. This is in the line of synodality, which breaks this model of the Church.”

In addition, she adds two more measures: “to urge communities, in which the laity is inserted, to revise the model under which they relate to other lay men and lay women, how they relate to the priests, the deacons, the Religious, etc. and to normalize dealings with each one of the members of the Church,” and revise “the permanent and opportune training that the laity must have in the matter of prevention of abuses.”

Renewal of the Ecclesial Hierarchy

 Venezuelan Rafael Luciani, Doctor in Theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University and Founder of the Ibero-American Theology Project Peter and Paul Seminar for the reform of the Church, writes the chapter entitled: “The Renewal of the Ecclesial Hierarchy by Itself Does Not Generate Transformation. Place Collegiality Within Synodality.”

In an exclusive interview with Zenit, Luciani says that recent researches “have shown that clericalism represents the root of a style of life and of an institutional ecclesial model that has failed and must be reformed. A reform cannot be made without touching in depth on the different individuals and levels in the Church.”

“Therefore, the hierarchy needs to be reformed in the light of the ecclesiology of the People of God that the council offers as key and that Pope Francis has deepened in his pontificate,” he says.  It implies that, not only styles of life must be changed, but <also> the way of conceiving power and the exercise of authority in the Church. Otherwise, we will continue living in a pyramidal and clerical structure that does not connect with the people and does not respond to the new signs of the present times.”

Enriching and Profound Relations

Moreover, the Mexican priest Federico Altbach Nunez contributes some “Philosophical-Theological Considerations on the Corporality and Abuse of Minors.

The Rector of the Lumen Gentium Catholic University and of the Conciliar Seminary of the Archdiocese of Mexico explains that it is important to teach young people, seminarians and women religious to appreciate corporality “as an essential part of our identity and to recognize its fundamental goodness.”

The Doctor in Theology and Philosophy says that “the body, sexuality, passions, in addition to giving us identity, exist to relate constructively with others; they help us  to be complemented, to have a creative vitality and they are also part of our spirituality. The norm of conduct for every human being and for every believer is respect and love, as well as the joy of encounter with the other. A repressive, blaming or unclear education must be avoided. Education must foster trust, as well as the care of oneself and of the other.”

In regard to the problem of abuse of minors, Altbach says: “its structural causes must be known and the risks that an immature affectivity implies. Young people, seminarians and women religious must develop their capacity to engage in profound and enriching relations and know the principles and strategies of the culture of prevention.”

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