With the opening of the meeting on clergy sex abuse in Rome, Pope Francis’ goals for the four-day assembly have become clear: Focus on the victims of abuse, hold bishops accountable for protecting children and win back the trust of the Catholic people.
This agenda is epitomized by three themes: responsibility, accountability and transparency. Each will be the focus of one day of the meeting. On the fourth and last day, the pope will celebrate the Eucharist with those in attendance.
To the meeting, which runs from Feb. 21-25, Pope Francis summoned the most important leaders in the church: the presidents of the 114 bishops conferences from around the world, the 14 leaders of the Oriental Catholic Churches, 22 superiors of men and women religious, 14 members of the Vatican Curia and 15 additional bishops and cardinals.
The first day of the meeting, on the theme of “responsibility,” set the pattern for the next two days.
After the opening prayer, the bishops viewed a video with the testimonies of five survivors of abuse by priests. That the victims were the first to be heard at the meeting was significant. Victims will also be heard during the prayer services ending each day.
One victim from Chile recounted how when he came forward, “the first thing they did was to treat me as a liar, turn their backs and tell me that I, and others, were enemies of the church.” Rather, “victims need to be believed, respected, cared for and healed,” he said.
A second victim spoke of abuse that started when she was 15 and continued for 13 years. She became pregnant three times and was forced to get an abortion each time. “I was afraid of him, and every time I refused to have sex with him, he would beat me,” she said. “And since I was completely dependent on him economically, I suffered all the humiliations he inflicted on me.”
The last victim was an Asian nun who spoke of religious superiors who covered up the abuse of nuns rather than defending their sisters. She urged the “bishops to get their act clear, because this is one of the time bombs happening in the church of Asia.”
The video was followed by the opening presentation by Philippine Cardinal Luis Tagle, who spoke sometimes emotionally of the pain suffered by victims of abuse and the responsibility of bishops to help in their healing.
“Our lack of response to the suffering of victims,” he told the assembly, “yes, even to the point of rejecting them and covering up the scandal to protect perpetrators and the institution, has injured our people, leaving a deep wound in our relationship with those we are sent to serve.
“Wounds are often inflicted by blindness of ambition and legalism and misuse of power,” he said.
While some bishops and clergy had wrongly identified themselves with the crucified Jesus during this crisis, Tagle identified the wounds of abuse victims with the wounds of Jesus, who was betrayed and abandoned by his disciples.
“Beholding Jesus wounded by betrayal and abuse of power,” he said, “we see the wounds of those hurt by those who should have protected them.”
Only by touching the wounds of Jesus did the Apostle Thomas reach faith in the resurrection. Just as the church cannot ignore the suffering of Jesus, neither can it ignore the wounds of the survivors of abuse. “Our people need us to draw close to their wounds and acknowledge our faults if we are to give authentic and credible witness to our faith in the resurrection,” Tagle said.
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Source: Religion News Service