Pope Benedict XVI called upon bishops to respond in a “Christ-like” manner to clerical abuse as part of a “profound renewal” of the Church.
His Feb. 6 comments marked the opening of an international symposium in Rome to discuss the issue. The Pope’s wishes were expressed in a communiqué from Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican's Secretary of State.
“He (the Pope) asks the Lord that, through your deliberations, many bishops and religious superiors throughout the world may be helped to respond in a truly Christ-like manner to the tragedy of child abuse,” the statement said.
“As His Holiness has often observed, healing for victims must be of paramount concern in the Christian community, and it must go hand in hand with a profound renewal of the Church at every level.”
The “Towards Healing and Renewal” symposium is being organized by Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University and runs from Feb. 6 - 9. Delegates have arrived come from about 110 bishops’ conferences, along with the superiors of more than 30 religious orders.
The message from Cardinal Bertone said that the Pope “supports and encourages every effort to respond with evangelical charity to the challenge of providing children and vulnerable adults with an ecclesial environment conducive to their human and spiritual growth.”
Pope Benedict urged symposium participants to “continue drawing on a wide range of expertise” to promote “a vigorous culture of effective safeguarding and victim support” throughout the Church.
All bishops’ conferences around the world have until May 2012 to draw up guidelines for dealing with cases of abuse. Those guidelines will then have to be approved by the Vatican. Many countries already have approved guidelines in place.
The symposium was opened on the evening of Feb. 6 with an address from Cardinal William J. Levada, Prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. His department has handled all alleged cases of abuse since 2001 when his predecessor Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, was in charge of the congregation.
“The Pope has had to suffer attacks by the media over these past years in various parts of the world, when he should receive the gratitude of us all, in the Church and outside it,” Cardinal Levada told delegates.
He outlined how then-Cardinal Ratzinger centralized and streamlined the Vatican’s procedures for dealing with allegations of abuse, while also significantly increasing penalties for those found guilty.
Cardinal Levada also explained how since his election to the papacy in 2005, Pope Benedict XVI has made a priority of implementing best practices for handling abuse allegations around the globe.
The Pope was also praised by Cardinal Levada for meeting with abuse victims during his pastoral visits to England, Malta, Germany, Australia and the United States.
“I think is it hardly possible to overestimate the importance of this example for us bishops, and for us priests, in being available to victims for this important moment in their healing and reconciliation.”