Bishops meet with victims and external experts

Bishops meet with victims and external experts

Dome of St. Peter's Basilica against a dark sky © Cristian Gennari (CBA)

Until now, the worldwide bishops' meeting on abuse, called by the Pope for February, has been a rather nebulous undertaking. Now the contours of the project are becoming clearer. And it becomes clear: the stakes are high.

Expectations were high anyway. But since the Vatican threw a brake on the train that the U.S. bishops wanted to put on the track to deal with abuse just under two weeks ago, expectations have risen once again. What can, should, must come out of the 21. to 24. February, the heads of all bishops' conferences, curia heads and top representatives of religious orders will meet at the Vatican to discuss abuse in the church? On coming to terms with such crimes and their possible cover-up, but also on better protection of children and young people in the church.

Since Friday, the contours of the hitherto unique project have begun to emerge. So the Vatican announced who is to prepare the meeting substantially: once the cardinals Blase Cupich of Chicago as well as Oswald Gracias of Bombay; both are close confidants of Francis. In addition, the Pope's chief investigator, Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, and the German psychologist Hans Zollner, Jesuit, director of the Child Protection Center at the Gregorian University and member of the Pontifical Commission for Child Protection. This is involved in the preparation as well as victims of abuse.

Cultural differences

Cupich comes from a bishops' conference that, on the one hand, is reeling from the consequences of its own failures. On the other hand, it is very advanced in terms of preventive measures, but is now under prere in terms of coming to terms with cover-ups. Gracias, on the other hand, knows the significance of the abuse scandal, but also comes from a part of the universal church and a culture where openly dealing with sexuality, hierarchy and criticism of authority are still unfamiliar. Such cultural-ecclesiastical disparities do not make the open-brotherly exchange planned for February any easier.

It was Malta's Archbishop Charles Scicluna who traveled to Chile in the spring with an over 2.The Pope returned with a 000-page report on the abuse crisis, thereby also converting the Pope in his assessment of the problem. In addition, Scicluna had already been working at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith since 2002, where he dealt with cases of sexual abuse. In mid-November, Francis brought him back there by appointing him assistant secretary of the Congregation.

Expert Hans Zollner

Finally, Jesuit Hans Zollner has been traveling the world church for years to educate about child protection and abuse. That's how he and his team at the Child Protection Center have developed training courses. The calm and objective Bavarian is the contact person of the preparatory committee. In an interview with the portal "Vatican News" (Friday), Zollner called the summit in February "very important" for the Church. Questionnaires will be sent to all participants. Then a documentation will be made. The debate should be "as free and fruitful as possible," Zollner said.

The meeting will have something of a synod, use appropriate experiences, but is not a synod, explained Scicluna in an interview with the Catholic US magazine "America". There will be plenary sessions, small groups organized by language with work assignments, hearings of external experts as well as affected persons. It is conceivable, for example, that bishops who have dealt little or not at all with the subject so far will have to listen to victims of abuse and their relatives, repentant perpetrators, lawyers, psychologists.

Pope himself also takes part

The pope himself would want to participate in all working sessions. And since for him dealing with abuse also has a spiritual dimension, prayer and worship were part of it. "There will be a penitential service," Scicluna stressed, "and victims of abuse will also participate in it."

Details of a reform of canon law will not be discussed in February, says Scicluna. But he expects "an important impetus" for a process "that actually leads to a reform in church law". After all, he said, the summit in February was the beginning of a larger and long-term process that would then have to continue in different ways from region to region. Then not only will the U.S. bishops be able to – and have to – keep their train running.

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Christina Cherry
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