On day two of the unprecedented Summit on the Protection of Minors in the Church, Feb. 21-24, 2019, called by Pope Francis to address and combat the decades-long sexual abuse crisis in the Church, accountability has been at the forefront. As expected the some 190 participants, mostly presidents of the national bishops’ conferences, spent yesterday discussing ‘responsibility,’ today ‘accountability,’ and tomorrow ‘transparency.’
Yet, while the day seemed to have concluded with words from the participants, one participant — Pope Francis — made unexpected brief, but significant remarks on the significance of women following the discourse of the laywoman and canon lawyer who consults for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Dr. Linda Ghisoni. She also serves as the Under-Secretary of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life.
The Pope stressed that a woman does not speak to the Church, but ‘is’ the Church. The Holy Father suggested that having women participate and speak is not about being mindful of keeping women involved. He also noted that while women having more roles in the Church is a good thing, this is not what he was speaking about.
Essentially, his point was: “it’s the feminine genius that is mirrored in the Church who is woman.” The members of the Church are birthed by the Church, i.e. the mother. When women speak, they are speaking as if the Church, herself, were speaking like a mother. The full address translated by Zenit can be found at the end of the article.
This second full day of the Summit began this morning with morning prayer. Two cardinals who were on the event’s organizing committee, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago and Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai, India, both spoke and both suggested that when there is questionable conduct of bishops, that bishops should police each other.
This afternoon, Dr. Linda Ghisoni spoke, marking the first of three women to give interventions. In these days, there are nine total speakers, two giving homilies, and two addresses by the Pope, one brief introductory one yesterday morning, where he called for ‘concrete actions’ and ‘purification,’ while distributing a list, or ‘roadmap,’ of 21 action steps, which are far from being considered final, but provide a concrete starting point, and his closing address on Sunday after the Mass, considered the most anticipated moment of the encounter.
On Monday, the members of the organizing committee will meet with Vatican dicasteries where they will start to look at how to move forward and put into action some of the outcomes from this three-and-a-half-day encounter.
In Cardinal Cupich’s address today, he stressed that accompanying victims means to “categorically reject all cover up” and to reject not getting close to survivors of clerical sexual abuse, out of fear of legal action or fear of scandal.
He also provided 12 “concrete procedural steps” to hold bishops accountable for abuse or mishandling cases of abuse. The list can be found at the bottom of the article.
Cardinal Gracias asked his fellow bishops to consider the following: “Do we really engage in an open conversation and point out honestly to our brother bishops when we notice problematic behavior in them.”
He told bishops that the era of bishops who think “this is not my problem,” needs to end because, in collegiality, it affects everyone. “No one can think ‘this is not my problem,'” he said. He also admitted that “cover-up can be worse than abuse itself, re-victimizing those who have already suffered abuse.”
Linda Ghisoni exhorted the Church to re-examine, in abuses cases, ‘the pontifical secret.’ While recognizing that the good name of those involved ought to be protected, often, she observed, the secret seems to “hide problems rather than protect.”
She also noted that if bishops think they are working for the Church, but are acting alone, without laity, they are not doing so. However, she cautioned, the involvement of laypeople does not mean magical solutions.
During today’s press conference, which preceded Dr. Ghisoni’s address, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston, and head of the Vatican’s Commission for the Protection of Minors gave his impressions of the summit.
“In my way of thinking,” he said, “there is nothing more urgent for the Church to do than to come together and be able to come up with a way to address what is the most important point of our mission at this point in our history: the protection of children.”
While throughout this conference it was noted that this summit is not intended to create guidelines that do not exist but to revise what is already in existence and make sure that all bishops conferences around the world, without exception, are implementing the necessary guidelines and are on the same page.
For instance, one of the greatest areas where observers say work needs to be done is to punish negligent bishops, those who have covered up. However, there does exist guidance within Pope Francis’ motu proprio ‘Come una madre amorevole‘ (‘Like a Loving Mother’), about negligent bishops.
While this exists, but it is widely known that the document has been widely un-enforced, Cardinal O’Malley mentioned a reform in progress: “The Holy See is providing clarification on the application of ‘Like a Loving Mother,” noting this should be made known soon.
Those speaking today all stressed the necessity of involving laity, and Cardinal Cupich’s proposal also said that where victims’ assistance is needed resulting from a bishop’s misconduct, that the diocese of the bishop ought to fund the services that the victim needs.
This morning, Pope Francis had distributed to the Summit participants the UN Report from the office of Marta Santos Pais, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on “Violence against Children,” an entity with which the Holy See collaborates. The report featured statistics and details on the UN office’s own child protection efforts.
During the encounter, a journalist asked about the progress of the internal investigations in the US and in the Vatican about how Theodore McCarrick was able to rise to power. It was noted that the Holy See, in the not too distant future, should be releasing findings.
Stay tuned for ZENIT’s coverage tomorrow of the last full day of the Summit, on Transparency.
Pope’s off-the-cuff remarks, following Dr. Ghisoni’s address:
“Listening to Dr. Ghisoni, I heard the Church speaking of itself. That is, all of us have spoken about the Church. In all our talks. But this time it was the Church Herself who spoke. It’s not only a question of style: it’s the feminine genius that is mirrored in the Church who is woman.
“To invite a woman to speak does not mean to speak does not mean to enter into an ecclesiastic feminism, because all feminism ends by becoming chauvinism in a skirt. No. To invite a woman to speak about the wounds of the Church is to invite the Church to speak about itself, the wounds it has. And I think this is the step we need to take most strongly: the woman is the image of the Church, who is woman, wife, and mother. A style. Without this style, we will speak of the people of God, but as an organization, maybe as a union, but not as a family birthed by the mother Church.
“The logic of Dr. Ghisoni’s thought was precisely that of a mother, and it ended with a story of what happens when a woman brings a child into this world. The feminine mystery of the Church that is wife and mother. It’s not about giving women more roles in the Church –yes, this is good, but you do not resolve the problem–it’s about integrating women as a figure of the Church in our thoughts. And to also think of the Church with the categories of a woman. Thank you for your testimony.”[Translation by ZENIT’s Deborah Castellano Lubov]
Cardinal Cupich’s framework of ‘clear procedures’ to hold bishops accountable for abuse or mishandling cases of abuse:
(from the cardinal’s intervention)
a. Victims and their families, as well as persons who report the allegation, need to be treated with dignity and respect, and should receive appropriate pastoral care. Efforts should be made to ensure that victims receive psychological counseling and other support, which I believe should be funded by the diocese of the accused bishop.
b. The reporting of an offense should not by impeded by the official secret or confidentiality rules.
c. No person should be discriminated against, or retaliated against, based upon the reporting of an allegation against a bishop to ecclesiastical authorities.
d. Due attention should be given to including competent lay women and men with expertise in the process from beginning to end, out of respect for the principles of accountability and transparency that I have noted above.
e. Whenever warranted, and at any time during the investigation, the Metropolitan should be able to recommend to the competent Roman congregation that appropriate precautionary measures, including temporary and public withdrawal of the accused from his office, be adopted.
f. If the allegation has even the semblance of truth, which the Metropolitan should be free to determine with the help of lay experts, the Metropolitan can request from the Holy See authorization to investigate. The exact nature of the investigation – whether penal or administrative – would depend on the allegations. This request is to be forwarded without delay and the congregation should respond without delay.
g. After the Metropolitan receives authorization he should gather all relevant information expeditiously, in collaboration with lay experts to ensure the professional and rapid execution of the investigation and conclude the investigation promptly.
h. Any investigation should be conducted with due respect for the privacy and good name of all persons involved. This does not preclude, however, episcopal conference adopting norms for informing the faithful of the allegation against the bishop at any stage of the process. At the same time, it is important that the accused be accorded the presumption of innocence during the investigation.
i. Upon completion of the investigation the Metropolitan would forward the acta, including all information gathered with the help of lay experts, along with his votum, if requested, to the Holy See.
j. A common fund may be established at the national, regional or provincial level to cover the costs of the investigations of bishops, with due regard to the norms of canon law for its administration.
k. The competence of the Metropolitan would normally cease once the investigation is completed, but could be extended to assure continuing pastoral care, or for other specific reasons. The processing of the case of a bishop proceeds from this point according to the norms of universal law. In accordance with canon law, the Holy See will either take the case of a bishop to itself for purposes of resolution by an administrative or penal process or other disposition, or the Holy See may return the case to the Metropolitan with further directions as to how to proceed.
l. And finally, of course, unless otherwise established by special law, it pertains to the Roman Pontiff to make a final decision.