Scicluna encouraged his brother bishops to focus their efforts on preventing sexual abuse, which he said is achieved through a more thorough screening process of candidates for seminary, particularly on the topics of celibacy and chastity.
“A just and balanced understanding of the demands of priestly celibacy and chastity should be underpinned by a profound and healthy formation in human freedom and sound moral doctrine,” said Scicluna. Those studying to be priests need to “nurture and grow in that spiritual fatherhood” that should be their motivation for their work in ministry.
Bishops and religious superiors should also embrace a sense of spiritual fatherhood, he said, through the priests they lead. A good bishop will lead by example, and will follow abuse protocols and codes of conduct.
“Above all, the ordinary is responsible in guaranteeing and promoting the personal, physical, mental and spiritual well-being of his priests.”
Cardinal Luis Antonio G. Tagle of Manila said in his Thursday address that bishops need to better understand the wounds caused by clerical sexual abuse, adding that he fears that bishops have “found the stench of filth inflicted on children and vulnerable people (they) were supposed to protect” to be “too strong to endure.”
Tagle drew inspiration from the Gospel story where Thomas doubts that Jesus has resurrected, and has to touch the wounds of Christ before he can proclaim that the Lord is his God. The action of touching Christ’s wounds was “fundamental to the act and confession of faith.”
Like Thomas, Tagle thinks that the bishops need to be “constantly in touch with the wounds of humanity,” which they can do by confronting the abuse crisis, their failings, and by providing assistance to those who are hurting.
“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,” said Tagle. He encouraged people to discard any fears of being wounded and to instead “draw close to the wounds of our people.”
Tagle argued that a two-pronged approach for both justice for those who were abused, as well as forgiveness for abusers is the best way for the Church to move forward in confronting the abuse crisis. He said it is not necessary to think in “either/or” terms, but rather, he advocates for a mentality of “both/and.”
“Regarding victims, we need to help them express their deep hearts and to heal from them,” said Tagle. “Regarding the perpetrators, we need to serve justice, help them to face the truth without rationalization, and at the same time not neglect their inner world, their own wounds.”
Cardinal Rubén Salazar Gómez of Bogota condemned a culture of clericalism as the “deeper root” of the abuse crisis. Clericalism, he said, is a force that converts ministry “into a means to impose force, to violate the conscience and the bodies of the weakest.”
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Clericalism, said Gómez, has led to “serious errors of authority” and has exacerbated the abuse crisis in the Church. Bishops are “hardly ever aware” that clericalism underlies their ministry, he said, and there must be an effort to “unmask” this mentality and bring about positive changes.
Bishops are responsible for increasing their own awareness that they are dependent upon each other, and that the Church and her bishops have failed in the past in their response to abuse.
“We often proceed like the hirelings, who, on seeing the wolf coming, flee and leave the flock unprotected,” said Gómez. “Fleeing,” he said, took the form of ignoring claims of abuse, failing to assist survivors of abuse, or attempting to silence survivors with monetary settlements. This “clerical mentality” places the Church above both justice and the suffering experienced by those who were abused, he explained.
In order to effectively protect the vulnerable, Gómez called for both a unified front among the bishops, as well as a “Code of Conduct” for bishops that provides a framework for the best way to handle allegations of abuse by members of the clergy.
“Its obligatory nature will be a guarantee that we all act in unison and in the right direction, since it gives us clear norms to control our conduct and provides concrete suggestions for the necessary corrective measures,” he said, and also pointed out that this code of conduct would be “a concrete way of strengthening the communion that is born of episcopal collegiality.”