Victims' ordeals are worsened because they have not been heard and the problem has been covered up
Father Federico Lombardi (left) talks to Pope Francis during the opening of the global child protection summit on Feb. 21 at the Vatican. (Photo by Vincenzo Pinto/AFP)
Church leaders cannot properly approach the issue of sexual abuse without listening to and being engaged by the experience of those who have suffered, says the moderator of the Vatican's February summit on child sexual abuse.
"Their suffering is due not only to abuse suffered but also to the fact that they have not been heard and the fact that the problem was covered up and the abusers protected," wrote Father Federico Lombardi for the Jesuit-run La Civiltà Cattolica.
Father Lombardi, a Jesuit and former papal spokesman, was the moderator for the Feb. 21-24 meeting that brought together the leaders of bishops' conferences from around the world to discuss the clerical sexual abuse of minors.
The meeting was a big step forward in some fundamental directions for all the participants, he said, summarizing the results.
"A decisive step forward was taken in overcoming the culture of silence. Residual silences must be broken, and courage is needed to bring issues to light and face them, to overcome misunderstandings of a distorted vision of authority and solidarity in the institution of the Church, Father Lombardi said.
He pointed out that this was what Pope Francis "with much insistence" has qualified as "clericalism."
Listening to victims of abuse is a necessary starting point for understanding the gravity of the problem and its nature, he said, hence listening must be part of the ministry of the bishop and that in dioceses there be specific people and places, known and available, to which victims and their families can turn.
Moreover, it is important to have qualified members of lay and ecclesial communities participate and collaborate to tackle competently and co-responsibly the different dimensions of the problems, he said.
The need was recognized for adopting transparency in every aspect of ecclesial life, internally and externally, both in the field of sexual abuse and in that of financial affairs, Father Lombardi wrote.
"If there is a definitive sentence, it is right that it be known; if there is a superior who is dismissed for negligence or weakness or failure, generally it is right that the reasons be made public."
For the full text of Father Lombardi's article, click here.
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