Protection of minors event draws swath of top Vatican leaders
St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. CBCPNews
VATICAN– In a significant show of unity, officials from every Vatican department – including at least half a dozen cardinals who head various dicasteries – attended a recent Rome seminar on safeguarding minors.
“I actually come from a dicastery that takes up the issue of human rights and justice,” said Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.
As head of an office that deals with human rights, awareness of what’s going on in the realm of abuse prevention is “very crucial,” he told CNA, stressing that “it’s so very important that we try to be on the same page with this commission and what they do.”
Every department of the Roman Curia was represented in some way at the March 23 seminar, an indication of its importance in the eyes of Vatican officials.
It is rare for the cardinals who head dicasteries to attend events outside of those hosted by their own department – more often, they send representatives to attend. The presence of several cardinals at Thursday’s event further indicated that the Vatican is seeking to place an emphasis on this issue, especially given that the one-day event was not specifically aimed at members of the Curia, but at a wider audience.
Joining Cardinal Turkson at the gathering was Cardinal Kevin Farrell, president of the Vatican’s mega-department for Laity, Family and Life.
Cardinal Sean O’Malley hosted the event in his capacity as head of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, and the seminar was also attended by Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, head of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life; Cardinal Marc Ouellet, head of the Congregation for Bishops and the Pontifical Commission for Latin America; and Cardinal Pell, prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy.
Cardinal Turkson said that in the case of his own department, he sent the official charged with the topic of international law, human rights, family law and other related topics, but also decided to come himself because it is “essential to see the new things that are being said about this issue.”
“There’s no pastor who is not interested in this issue, especially if he’s a bishop, because there was a way that bishops used to deal with this issue,” he said, noting that often times, priests were simply sent to treatment centers and then put into another parish once they had completed the program.
“Now the understanding about this is deeper,” he said. “The impression in those days was that people could go to treatment centers and get help, but that was all false.”
“So it’s good to deepen our understanding about this, very, very, very deeply and very well,” he said, explaining that he came not only to support Cardinal O’Malley, a longtime friend, but also to learn and hear updates on the issue.
Cardinal Farrell agreed. “It’s important for the Church to be here because…if you look back on the history of probably the last 20 years, it’s the greatest obstacle to preaching the Word of God and the credibility of doing what we’re supposed to do,” he told CNA.
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 presentations by several members and collaborators of the commission, including Kathleen McCormack, chair of the PCPM Working Group on Education of Families and Communities. It also featured presentations by representatives from Mexico, Colombia and Argentina, as well as Australia and Italy.
The event fell just weeks after clerical abuse survivor Marie Collins resigned from her position on the commission, citing pushback from certain Vatican dicasteries, specifically from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as one of the main reasons for stepping down.
According to Fr. Hans Zollner SJ, head of the Center for Child Protection and a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, hearing and including the voice of survivors was a key point in the discussion during their plenary, which begins March 24.
In March 23 comments to CNA, Fr. Zollner said “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.”
Regarding the involvement of survivors in the process, he noted that Collins herself said in an interview that “a certain set of skills” is needed if a survivor wants to participate in any kind of panel or commission.
“So we will see, together with survivors, what this set of skills should look like,” he said, but cautioned that it isn’t as easy as it sounds. From his perspective as someone who travels around the world trying to raise awareness on the issue, in many countries “people are not so used to speaking out about this.”
“Even if they are a survivor and victim, in some parts of the world this is still taboo and we need to help people come out of that,” he said, explaining that when their mandate is up at the end of the year, the commission will re-visit their structure and development process “so that our journey continues.”
But in the meantime, he praised the seminar as a key step, saying it was a “very successful event,” particularly in “drawing many high-ranking members of the Curia, including a number of cardinals, and (with) all the dicasteries represented.”