Father Federico Lombardi, SJ, Moderator of the Meeting for the Protection of Minors in the Church, summarizes in 12 questions and answers this summit being held in the Vatican, from Thursday, February 21 to Sunday, February 24, 2019.
- When was it decided to hold the meeting?
September 12, 2018: The Council of Cardinals announced that Pope Francis decided to call a meeting with the Presidents of the Episcopal Conferences on the subject of “the protection of minors.”
November 23, 2018: Pope Francis appointed the members of the Organizing Committee and the participants.
December 18, 2018: Announcement of the sending of letters of invitation to the participants with the request to meet the victims.
January 16, 2019: Communication on the preparation of the Meeting. Father Federico Lombardi, SJ, was appointed Moderator of the Plenary Sessions.
- What does Pope Francis propose?
The Pope explained his intention on the return flight from Panama: to help the Bishops understand fully what they must do. In this connection, he spoke of a “catechesis” to begin from the Presidents of the Conferences.
The Holy Father wants them to be conscious of the drama and suffering of the victims. All this to make a sort of forceful emergence of the sense of responsibility of each Bishop in as much as unique individual and in as much as integral part of all the Bishops and of the whole community, namely, the Church.
The Holy Father wants them to know how to act, hence, what the procedures are, the tasks that must be followed at the different levels (Diocesan Bishop, Archbishop, Episcopal Conference, Vatican Dicasteries). All this entails a reciprocal responsibility and has duties that each has towards the other Bishops, in the Church and in the society.
It implies “transparency” in the tasks, the procedures and the means of implementing them.
Recovered in this way is the credibility of the Church and the people’s trust in her.
- Who is taking part?
- Pope Francis will be present during the entire duration of the Meeting
- The Presidents of the 114 Episcopal Conferences: 36 from Africa, 24 from America, 18 from Asia, 32 from Europe and four from Oceania
- 14 Heads of the Oriental Catholic Churches
- 15 Ordinaries not belonging to any Episcopal Conference
- 12 Superiors General (men)
- 10 Superiors General (women)
- 10 Heads of Vatican Dicasteries
- 4 Members of the Roman Curia
- 5 Members of the Council of Cardinals
- 5 Organizers, moderators and speakers
- In total: 190 people
- For the list of Names of the Participants click here
- How was the Meeting prepared?
After the announcement of the summit, which took place during a meeting of the Council of Cardinals last September 12, at the end of November the Pope appointed an Organizing Committee made up of four persons: Cardinal Blase Cupich, Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop Charles Scicluna and Father Hans Zollner, assisted by Gabriella Gambino and Linda Ghisoni of the Dicastery for the Laity, the Family and Life. A letter was sent to the participants in December with a questionnaire, whose responses were expected by January, and an invitation to meet the victims of sexual abuses perpetrated by members of the clergy in their respective countries.
The answers to the questionnaire were very important (about 90% responded) and constitute a rich source of information. Much time will be necessary to elaborate and assess the numerous responses, which in the main are “open” not “closed” answers. The information will also serve to reflect further on the specific approaches in the different cultures, also after the Meeting.
- How is the Meeting unfolding?
The essential elements are: prayer and listening; interventions and questions; group work; the Pope’s conclusions.
- Prayer There will be times dedicated to prayer at the beginning and at the end of each working day; on Saturday afternoon a Penitential Liturgy will take place and on Sunday a Concelebrated Mass.
- Reports There will be nine “reports” (interventions), three a day; two in the morning and one in the afternoon, followed by questions and answers.
- Working Groups Each day two periods will be dedicated to working groups, one in the morning and the other in the afternoon.
- Pope Francis Pope Francis will give the opening address of the Meeting and, if he so wishes, he will be able to make a conclusive intervention at the end of the day. He will deliver the Meeting’s closing address on Sunday morning.
- What are the main subjects?
The three days will focus on three main subjects:
Each of the subjects is articulated around three “reports” (interventions).
Each “report” will focus on a topic to which it is linked:
The figure of the Bishop and his responsibilities;
The relationship of the Bishop with the other Bishops;
The relationship of the Bishop with the People of God and the society.
The choice of “reporters” (speakers) was made in such a way as to represent the diversity of Continents, of cultures, of present situations in the Church. Among them, three are women.
- How are the participants involved?
After each “report,” there will be a brief lapse of time dedicated to “reporter’s” questions and answers. Then, the participants will meet to form linguistic groups to discuss the different “reports.” There will be 10 linguistic groups; they won’t be large groups; they will be made up of some fifteen persons so that everyone has the possibility to express him/herself. Then the different groups will make a brief report, which they will share with the assembly in the course of the last part of the working day. They will transmit a written report for further study.
- What place is given to listen to the victims?
The listening of the victims and the understanding of their sufferings is the necessary point of departure for a serious engagement against sexual abuses. It’s for this reason that during this Meeting, time is foreseen dedicated to their testimony. However, such listening needs sufficient time, which in reality is very limited during the summit.
The principal listening <session> was that asked of the participants during the preparation of the Meeting, so that they would become aware of the existence and gravity of the problem in their country.
In the course of the Meeting, the listening <session> cannot but be necessarily limited: a video with 4-5 testimonies at the opening of the works; each evening, during prayer, there will be a testimony.
The Meeting, of course, intends to sensitize on the permanent need to listen to the victims.
- What place is there for prayer?
It is an ecclesial meeting, mainly of Pastors of the Church. Prayer, therefore, is essential. The Pastors’ responsibility is vis-a-vis the Church and the society — it’s an important aspect of the Meeting — but especially before God. This must determine the atmosphere of the summit, which is also an “examination of conscience” of the Church and of conversion, of asking for forgiveness, of purification and of renewal. The Penitential Liturgy is a very important moment of the Meeting, as is the Conclusive Con-celebration before each one returns there, where he exercises his responsibility and mission.
- Will there be a Final Document, a Statement, a Plan of Action?
A Final Document isn’t foreseen. In the framework of the Meeting, the Holy Father will present the conclusion in an address delivered at the end of the Mass, which will be celebrated on Sunday morning.
However, the meeting itself is a period of mutual listening and of co-responsibility, it is foreseen that the organizers and the Heads of Dicasteries concerned will meet in the days following, to draw the operational consequences of the summit and observe the engagements that result, so that the stimulus, the propositions and the measures envisaged can be effectively implemented and that each Dicastery or Institution knows for what it is responsible.
- How can the fruits of the Meeting be gathered?
Each participant will have a binder for the texts of the prayers and liturgies, for the texts of the “reports” translated into the language of their choice, for eventual communications and other texts or vademecum prepared in view of the Meeting. Of course, all this material will also be available under electronic forms, in order to be able to be communicated easily to the members of the different Episcopal Conferences and to other interested persons.
- What is the answer to “pessimists” regarding the result?
The pessimism depends on an erroneous expectation. All the problems of the Church won’t be resolved definitively in four days. It’s about a stage in a long process that the ecclesial community initiated more than 15 years ago and which will still be pursued for a long time. The Pope explained that it’s about giving a new impulse that helps all the Bishops, and hence the Church as a whole, to take a step forward in a good direction in a solidary manner.
However, above all, there already are numerous results, which wouldn’t exist or would have been delayed without the Meeting. The very numerous answers of the Bishops to the questionnaire attest to their mobilization, as well as their meetings with numerous victims, which reflect a reinforced sensitivity. Several Episcopal Conferences accelerated the preparation and the conclusion of their guidelines on the subject; others took decisions (for instance, the Italian Episcopal Conference implemented a National Service for the Protection of Minors). Other norms being prepared will probably see the light of day during the Meeting.