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Church must develop global plan to deal with abuse crisis

Baroness Sheila Hollins addresses the session. Seated from left are Marie Collins, Barbara Thorp and Prof Gabriel Dy-Liacco.

The triennial World Meeting of Families (WMOF) was held in Dublin, Ireland, August 21–26. The venue for the Pastoral Congress was the Royal Dublin Society. From August 22–24 presentations were made by speakers from around the world. Editor Raymond Syms, who attended the WMOF with his wife Tricia as part of the five-member contingent representing the Antilles Episcopal Conference, reports on another talk.

The Church is shocked, disillusioned, disappointed but most of all, it is angry. Those present at Hall 8C for the Friday morning talk could feel that underlying tension as the session dealt with the issue affecting the Church today, the sexual abuse crisis. ‘Safeguarding Children and Vulnerable Adults’ was the title of the session.

The panel comprised Marie Collins, abuse survivor, former member of the Pontifical Commission for Protection of Minors, Ireland; Barbara Thorp, social worker, former head of The Office for Pastoral Support and Child Protection, Archdiocese of Boston, USA; Prof Gabriel Dy-Liacco, Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, the Philippines; and Baroness Sheila Hollins, former member of the Pontifical Commission for Protection of Minors, England.

The baroness had a dual role as the listed moderator Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston, did not attend. Baroness Hollins read his letter of apology, and his absence was understandable: it had been only days since the US media dropped the bombshell that an estimated 300 priests in Pennsylvania had molested more than 1,000 children over seven decades. Not one American prelate due to participate at WMOF attended.

Panellists called for concrete and decisive action, and for a Vatican-initiated global plan to confront this crisis.

Collins, a wife and mother, said measures must be put in place to protect children and these “safeguarding policies…should be implemented in every diocese and congregation around the world”. She said the Vatican was accountable for the situation as it had not gone far enough. It was one of the reasons she had stepped away from the Commission.

Collins called for true “zero tolerance”, for perpetrators to be removed from priestly ministry and if there is a challenge within Canon Law that the Vatican must “write a new one”. She asserted, “We must keep children safe.”

Thorp said the crisis was global because of the Church’s failures at effectively dealing with the problem. “The searing truth is we need to face the depth of this darkness in the Church”. Citing how the world came together to rescue the Thai football team trapped in the cave, the Church must come together now to protect children. “We know what to do—it’s not a mystery…”

Dr Dy-Liacco thanked abuse survivors in the audience for their courage, and the media for exposing the crimes, noting that cases were cropping up “in every jurisdiction”. He said the “systemic denial” and silence “to protect the Church’s name” had hurt many and those bishops and clergy who had covered up the crimes had abused their power.

He said improvements to protect children had been made, but it was not enough. “Words are sweet but love means deeds.” He asked rhetorically, “As a parent of a girl and four boys, will my children be safe? Suppose my son feels called to the priesthood, will he be safe in the seminary? I cannot answer ‘yes’.”

He called on the laity, especially parents, to help make the Church the safest place on earth. “Holy Father, we are rooting for you to accomplish what is right for our children.”

Baroness Hollins, a psychiatrist, said abuse survivors are resilient but some suffer mental breakdown, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, become suicidal, aggressive in their relationships or promiscuous. “The memory of the abuse never goes away. It affects the child; it affects the family.”

The session closed with all invited to join in offering the following prayer/statement:

As members of the Church, we commit ourselves:
To walk along with all people who have been sexually abused,
so that their voice be heard in order for their pain to be healed.
We will accompany them as they seek justice.
We beg our Lord to embrace them with His mercy, and to help our bishops and the Holy Father take the concrete action they need to take. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.”


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– The family as an Agent of Peace in a turbulent world.

– Spicing up our married life: Satisfying couples’ hunger for true love!