HomeNewsPope Francis invites child protection group to have ‘a spirituality of reparation’

Pope Francis invites child protection group to have ‘a spirituality of reparation’

“The sexual abuse of minors by clergy and its poor handling by Church leaders has been one of the greatest challenges for the Church in our time”

Pope Francis invited the Vatican’s child protection commission to have “a spirituality of reparation” toward victims of clergy sexual abuse and to examine where the Church has committed “sins of omission” in this area.

“The sexual abuse of minors by clergy and its poor handling by Church leaders has been one of the greatest challenges for the Church in our time,” he told the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors (PCPM) during an audience May 5.

“The failure to act properly to halt this evil and to assist its victims,” he continued, “has sullied our witness to God’s love.”

“In the Confiteor, we ask forgiveness not only for the wrong we have done but also for the good we have failed to do. It can be easy to forget sins of omission, for in a way they seem less real; yet in fact they are very real, and they hurt the community as much as others, if not more so,” he said.

Pope Francis met with PCPM staff and members during its plenary assembly May 3–6.

The commission said agenda items for the assembly included evaluating the first six months since the commission was reformed in September 2022, reviewing a proposed audit tool requested by Pope Francis and discussing how to better define roles, responsibilities, and working methods in the commission.

The gathering of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors followed shortly after the public resignation of a founding member, Father Hans Zollner, for what he described as “structural and practical issues” in the institution.

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Cardinal Sean O’Malley, who heads the commission, said he strongly disagreed with Zollner’s critique.

The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, instituted in 2014, serves as an advisory body to the pope, providing recommendations on how the Church can best protect minors and vulnerable adults.

With the publication of Pope Francis’ apostolic constitution Praedicate Evangelium, the commission, which remains independent, was stabilized and given a more central role in the Roman Curia within the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The commission is led by O’Malley, president, and Father Andrew Small, OMI, secretary.

News that the group plans to move from small offices in the Vatican to a historic Church-owned building in Rome’s city center was featured in the New York Times in April.

O’Malley spoke about the new offices during the May 5 meeting with Pope Francis.

“We recognized the need for a visible and physical center dedicated to the fight against sexual abuse in the Church and a welcome center for those impacted by abuse,” he said.

The cardinal also described three new projects of the PCPM, including an update to the Church’s global guidelines on child safeguarding, first issued in 2011, to be published soon.

He said a U.S.-based Catholic foundation has secured external funding for the commission, allowing it to hire new staff members, who will provide support to the different local churches.

O’Malley said the group has also established what it is calling the Memorare Program, “in honor of the prayer to the Blessed Mother that anyone who comes to you for help will not remain unaided.”

The program has a fund of 3 million euros ($3.3 million) provided by donors from bishops’ conferences in prosperous parts of the world to provide financial support for safeguarding measures in poorer parts of the Church.

During their audience, Pope Francis invited the commission to follow three principles as part of living “a spirituality of reparation” for the sin of abuse.

“No one today can honestly claim to be unaffected by the reality of sexual abuse in the Church,” he said.

He said the first principle is “where harm was done to people’s lives, we are called to keep in mind God’s creative power to make hope emerge from despair and life from death.”

“The terrible sense of loss that many experience as a result of abuse can sometimes seem a burden too heavy to bear,” he said. “Church leaders, who share a sense of shame for their failure to act, have suffered a loss of credibility, and our very ability to preach the Gospel has been damaged. Yet the Lord, who brings about new birth in every age, can restore life to dry bones.”

He acknowledged the devastating consequences abuse can have on the lives of victims, including in their future relationships.

“Where life is broken, then, I ask you to help put pieces back together, in the hope that what is broken can be repaired,” he asked commission members.

“This,” he continued, “is the path of healing and redemption: the path of Christ’s cross.”

Thirdly, he asked the group to cultivate a respectful, kind, and gentle approach with victims.

Quoting American poet and activist Maya Angelou, he said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

“The principles of respect for the dignity of all, for right conduct and a sound way of life must become a universal rule, independent of people’s culture or economic and social condition,” he said.

“Indeed, a culture of safeguarding will only take root if there is a pastoral conversion in this regard among the Church’s leaders.”

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