.- On Thursday a Vatican event on the prevention of child abuse narrowed in on the importance of education in schools and parishes in the safeguarding of children – not only for teachers, but for parents and children – and on the Church's role.
Led by Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley of Boston, head of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, he told CNA at the March 23 event that Catholic schools are, of course, a very important part of the Church’s and Commission's ministry.
There are “60 million children in our care in Catholic schools and so this kind of a conference is extremely important for the ministry of the Church,” O'Malley said. “And we were very gratified that so many cardinals made time to be a part of this.”
The seminar was attended by five different cardinals in addition to O'Malley, including Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, head of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, and Cardinal Marc Ouellet, head of the Congregation for Bishops.
Cardinal Kevin Farrell, Prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life; Cardinal George Pell, Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy; and Cardinal Peter Turkson, Prefect of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, were also in attendance.
Additionally, every Vatican department was represented in some way.
Fr. Hans Zollner SJ, who heads the Center for Child Protection (CCP) at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and is also a member of the commission, told CNA that it was a “very successful event, in drawing many high ranking members of the Curia, including a number of cardinals…all the dicasteries represented.”
“This is taking shape and the formation that we have offered to dicasteries has also been very fruitful.”
Sponsored jointly by the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors (PCPM) and the Pontifical Gregorian University’s Center for Child Protection, the day-long educational seminar focused on what the local church and institutions are doing to combat abuse of minors specifically in schools and the home.
It included a presentation by Kathleen McCormack, Chair of the PCPM Working Group on Education of Families and Communities, and presentations by representatives from Mexico, Colombia and Argentina, as well as Australia and Italy.
One participant, Fr. Luigi Gritti, a graduate of a CCP course on child abuse, told CNA that it was important that South America was a focus of the seminar, since the U.S. and Europe are usually the focus when discussing this issue.
“It tells you that the problem is present and acknowledged by the people, but also that something is being done to address the problem. So I think it's a good development,” he said.
The presentations on South America all highlighted the importance of including children: speaking with and listening to them, teaching them about what is safe and appropriate behavior from adults, as well as becoming familiar with the visual and verbal signs that could indicate the occurrence of abuse, whether physical, emotional or sexual.
The presenters for each country explained the unique cultural challenges they face in preventing abuse and in handling allegations, as well as what policies are currently in place.
In the presentation on Australia, Francis Sullivan, CEO of Truth, Justice and Healing Council, said that in the end, the question of why the sex abuse crisis happened in our Church comes down to cultural problems and to corruption.
Australia’s sexual abuse crisis has been one of the most shocking and widely known in the Church. Feb. 6, Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse held its final three-week review of how the Catholic Church in Australia has responded to sex abuse allegations.
Referencing a quote from Pope Francis where he said that we don’t only need to reform the Church, but also the heart, he said that “child sexual abuse has broken the heart of the Church.”
“We have never fully appreciated that the decisions that our leaders made in order to facilitate and cover up (abuse), actually broke the heart of what it means to be Catholic, and we need to go back and fully confront that,” he said.
“Let’s not distract Church leaders from recognizing that this is a Church problem. Sure, it might happen in other institutions, sure, it happens in families. But the fact that it happened within the Catholic Church says something about the corruption within our Church… That we are not true to what we are meant to be.”
Friday the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors begins their next Plenary Assembly, and one of the central topics will be how to ensure that survivors and victims are always the first priority, O’Malley said in his introductory remarks.
“The assembly begins tomorrow and of course that is one of the things we'll be talking about,” he told CNA. A meeting of survivors is planned for June that the commission will also be involved in, he said.
Regarding the participation of survivors, Fr. Zollner told CNA that “we need to be informed by survivors and victims, we need to listen to them, and we need to take into account what has been and is their experience.”
Other topics at the Plenary Assembly will include how the commission will continue after the mandate concludes at the end of the calendar year, he said, and “we will see what are the structural steps, or the development, we will need so that our journey continues,” he said.