Cardinal Pell had said on Wednesday that he had the full backing of the Pope, and after twenty hours and 4 nights of grueling testimony with the Australian Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse, admitting the church has made “enormous mistakes” and saying he regretted not being able to do more, the Vatican commended Cardinal Pell for “dignified and coherent” testimony to the Royal Commission.
In a statement released March 4th, Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi referring to the Oscar award movie ‘Spotlight’ which tells a story about how Boston Globe investigated the cases of widespread sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests and the recent deposition of Cardinal Pell said the events had given people the wrong impression that the Church has remained silent on the issue.
We ought “to give credit” to Cardinal Pell and the group of 15 abuse survivors who traveled from Australia to Rome for the deposition, both for the cardinal’s “dignified and consistent” testimony, as well as the survivors’ willingness “to establish a constructive dialogue,” the Vatican spokesman said.
“The sensationalist presentation of these two events has ensured that, for a significant part of the public, especially those who are least informed or have a short memory, it is thought that the Church has done nothing, or very little, to respond to these terrible problems, and that it is necessary to start anew. “An objective consideration shows it is not true,” he added..
Here’s CNA’s English translation of the Vatican spokesman’s statement:
Cardinal Pell’s deposition before the Royal Commission in direct transmission from Rome to Australia and the simultaneous administration of an Oscar for Best Film of Spotlight, on the role of the Boston Globe in denouncing the cover of numerous crimes of pedophile priests in Boston (primarily in the 1960s-80s), have been accompanied by a new wave of media attention and public opinion on the dramatic topic of the sexual abuse of minors, in particular on the part of clerics.
The sensationalistic presentation of these two events has meant that, for much of the public, especially if less informed or of short memory – thinking that the Church has done nothing or done very little to respond to these horrible tragedies and that we have to start again. An objective consideration shows that this is not true. The former archbishop of Boston (Cardinal Bernard Law) resigned in 2002 following the events which Spotlight speaks about (and after a famous meeting of American cardinals gathered in Rome by Pope John Paul II in April 2002), and since 2003 (13 years) the archdiocese has been governed by Cardinal Sean O’Malley, universally known for his rigor and wisdom in dealing with issues of sexual abuse, so much so that he was nominated by the Pope as one of his counselors and as President of the Commission he founded for the protection of minors.
The tragic events of sexual abuse in Australia are also the subject of investigations and legal and canonical procedures, (and have been) for many years. When Pope Benedict XVI traveled to Sydney for World Youth Day in 2008 (8 years ago) he met a small group of victims from the same archdiocese governed by Cardinal Pell, given that the story was already a strong topic and the Archbishop (Pell) felt that such a meeting was highly appropriate.
Just to give an idea of the attention with which these problems were followed, the only section of the Vatican website dedicated to “Abuse of Minors: The Church’s response,” was started around 10 years ago, and contains some 60 documents or speeches.
The courageous commitment popes have dedicated to confronting the crisis manifested in different countries and situations – such as the United States, Ireland, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, the Legionaries of Christ – has been neither small nor indifferent. The renewal of procedures and universal canonical norms; guidelines requested and formed on the part of episcopal conferences, not only to response to abuses committed but also to prevent them adequately; apostolic visits to intervene in the most serious situations and the profound reform of the Legionaries of Christ have all been actions intended to respond in-depth and with foresight to a plague that was manifested in surprising and devastating severity, above all in certain regions and certain periods. Benedict XVI’s letter to Irish faithful from March 2010 probably remains the most eloquent reference document, well beyond just Ireland, to understand the attitude and the judicial, pastoral and spiritual response of popes to these tragedies of the Church of our time: the recognition of the serious mistakes made and asking forgiveness; priority attention and justice for the victims; conversion and purification; commitment to prevention and renewed human and spiritual formation.
The meetings of Benedict and Francis with groups of victims have accompanied this now long path with the example of listening, of asking for forgiveness, of consolation and of the personal involvement of popes.
In many countries the results of the commitment for renewal are encouraging; cases of abuse have become very rare and so the majority of cases we are dealing with today and which continue to come to light belong to a relatively distant past, from several decades (ago). In other countries, usually for reasons of cultural situations that are very different and still characterized by silence, there is still a lot to do and there is not lack of resistance and difficulty, but the way forward has become clearer.
The formation of the Commission for the Protection of Minors announced by Pope Francis in December 2013, composed of members of every continent, indicates the maturity of the Catholic Church’s path. After having established and internally developed a decisive response to the problems of the sexual abuse of minors (on the part of priests or other Church workers), the problem arises systematically of not only how to respond well to the problem in every part of the Church, but also of how to more broadly help the societies in which the Church lives to confront the problems of abuse and violations committed against minors, given that – as everyone should know, even if there is often still a considerable reluctance to admit it – in every part of the world the vast majority of abuse cases don’t come from ecclesial contexts, but outside of them (in Asia one can speak of dozens of millions of abused children, certainly not in Catholic contexts).
Therefore, the Church, wounded and humiliated by the plague of abuse, intends to act not only for her own recovery, but also to make available her strong experience in this field, to enrich her educative and pastoral service to society as a whole, which generally still has a long way to go to realize the seriousness of the problems and to address them.
In this perspective the events in Rome the past few days can in the end be read in a positive light. We must give credit to Cardinal Pell for a dignified and consistent personal testimony (some 20 hours of dialogue with the Royal Commission!) which shows once more an objective and lucid picture of the mistakes made in many ecclesial environments (in this case Australia) in past decades. And this acquisition is not useless in the perspective of the common “purification of memory.”
We must also give credit to different member of the group of victims who came from Australia for having shown a willingness to establish a constructive dialogue with the same cardinal and with the representative of the Commission for the Protection of Minors Fr. Hans Zollner, SJ, from the Pontifical Gregorian University – with which they deepened the prospects for an effective commitment for abuse prevention.
If therefore the appeals followed by Spotlight and the mobilization of victims and organizations for the deposition of Cardinal Pell contribute to supporting and intensifying the long march in the fight against child abuse in the universal Catholic Church and in the world today (where the dimension of these tragedies is boundless), they are welcome.