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September 9, 2018
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September 12, 2018

We Must Protect Our Children

Q: Archbishop J, What is happening to our Church?

The recent publication of the 1300-page grand jury report in the United States, detailing the systemic abuse of over 1000 children in six Pennsylvania dioceses over the past seven decades, was shocking. It has shattered the faithful in the Catholic Church worldwide.

Many members of our community have expressed dismay and felt gut-wrenching anguish for the abused and their families. Disappointment in our Church and its leadership is widespread.

The subsequent disclosures in the letter from Archbishop Viganò, the former nuncio to the United States, plunged the Church into more uncertainty, especially with his allegation of a high-level Vatican cover-up of former Cardinal Theodore Mc Carrick’s abuse.

This is a dark night for our Church. Children have been traumatised, families are in turmoil and lives have been ruined. Let us all commit to deep prayer for all victims—their families. We must also pray for perpetrators of abuse. We need to ensure collaboration at all levels within the Church so its environment is safe for all children.

Lamentation and Anger

As I reflect on the multiple levels of incompetence and cover-up, my reaction is lamentation and anger. How can someone who accepted a vocation to shepherd the children of God, prey on his sheep? But worse, the leaders did not protect the innocent. This Joel passage has become a prayer:

Let the priests, who minister before the Lord, weep between the portico and the altar. Let them say, ‘Spare your people, Lord. Do not make your inheritance an object of scorn, a byword among the nations.’ Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’” (Joel 2:17)

We must acknowledge there is a systemic problem. Children were abused; some persons conspired; others covered up or turned a blind eye on the abuse. What is consistent is their action or inaction put innocent, trusting children in harm’s way. These children are now scarred and traumatised. Everyone has to answer for the role they played.

Many of you are angry with the Church because she failed to protect the little ones. Many of you are calling for change in its handling of such incidents. The People of God expect change; they deserve change.

Pope Francis

In a courageous and strong letter to the People of God, Pope Francis called the entire Church to prayer, fasting and repentance saying:

 ‘If one member suffers, all suffer together with it’ (1 Cor 12:26). These words of Saint Paul forcefully echo in my heart as I acknowledge once more the suffering endured by many minors due to sexual abuse, the abuse of power and the abuse of conscience perpetrated by a significant number of clerics and consecrated persons.

Crimes that inflict deep wounds of pain and powerlessness, primarily among the victims, but also in their family members and in the larger community of believers and nonbelievers alike.

Looking back to the past, no effort to beg pardon and to seek to repair the harm done will ever be sufficient. Looking ahead to the future, no effort must be spared to create a culture able to prevent such situations from happening, but also to prevent the possibility of their being covered up and perpetuated.

The pain of the victims and their families is also our pain, and so it is urgent that we once more reaffirm our commitment to ensure the protection of minors and of vulnerable adults.

Pope Francis invites us to unite in solidarity against this evil. He invites us to end clericalism; to work tirelessly to protect the victims and participate in transformation that makes the Church a safe place for all God’s children.

His call is for deep, sustained conversion, which must impact the Church at all levels. I support this call. There must be open dialogue on the rights of our children and the accountability of priests and Church workers, to ensure a safe environment for our children. The laity must also hold us accountable.

In our Diocese

The last few weeks have been a game changer. Every Catholic priest has been condemned just by virtue of being a Catholic priest. Each of us must be reminded of our responsibility for the safety and protection of God’s children.

Many years ago, the AEC Bishops implemented procedures to address sexual abuse of minors by clergy; seminarians and deacons in formation are required to undergo thorough psychological screening and periodic assessments. We have trained three people to identify ‘at-risk’ behaviour. Priests also complete an internationally approved online course regarding child protection.

We must raise awareness within the Church and in the wider society that child abuse is wrong. Widespread incest in the Caribbean is a significant concern. The Church must become the healing balm for all children who were abused.  The real transformation will, however, only take place when we raise the consciousness of our whole community—laity and clergy—to speak up about any acts of abuse, in Church and in society. Do not be silent.

Let us begin open conversations about how to protect our children at home, at school, at Church and in the wider society. While the Family Life, and Youth Commissions will play a pivotal role in organising a laity-led movement, each of us has a responsibility.

I close with the words of Pope Francis: “I invite the entire holy faithful People of God to a penitential exercise of prayer and fasting, following the Lord’s command. This can awaken our conscience and arouse our solidarity and commitment to a culture of care that says ‘never again’ to every form of abuse.”

Key Message: We all have a responsibility to protect our children. Let us collaborate; let us be vigilant. 

Action Step: Read Pope Francis’ letter; discuss it with your family and groups. Discuss what needs to change in your parish and family to protect our children.

Scripture: Joel 2:19; Mt 18:5–7.

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