THE HOLY See’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has had to deal with more than 4,000 cases of sexual abuse of minors in the past decade, according to its prefect, US Cardinal William Levada.
He was speaking at a symposium in Rome, “Towards Healing and Renewal”, which opened yesterday and was addressed by Irish clerical abuse survivor Marie Collins.
Cardinal Levada told the symposium, being held over three days in the Pontifical Gregorian University, that the number of cases of sexual abuse of minors reported to the CDF in the past decade had revealed, on the one hand, the inadequacy of “an exclusively canonical response to this tragedy and, on the other, the necessity of a truly multifaceted response ...”
Bishops from more than 100 countries as well as 32 heads of religious orders have gathered for the event, which is intended to help churchmen understand the need for and then develop that “truly multifaceted response”.
In Rome, where until recently it was not uncommon to hear senior Vatican figures dismiss the clerical sex abuse crisis as “an Anglo-Saxon problem”, this may well be a ground-breaking event.
Cardinal Levada indicated something of the spirit of the week when addressing the victims of clerical sex abuse, saying: “For many if not most victims a first need is to be heard, to know that the church listens to their story of abuse, that the church understands the gravity of what they have suffered, that she wants to accompany them on the often long path of healing ...”.
While acknowledging the complexity of the issue, Cardinal Levada did however defend the church's response, pointing out that John Paul II's 2001 Motu Proprio" Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela" instigated a "co-ordinated response" by instructing all abuse cases be reported to the CDF.
Cardinal Levada praised Pope Benedict not only for his role as prefect of the CDF in 2001 in framing that Motu Proprio but also for supporting the approval of “Essential Norms” on child protection in the US church, adding: “But the Pope has had to suffer attacks by the media over these past years in various parts of the world, when he should rather have received the gratitude of us all, in the church and outside it ...”
In an address entitled, “Listening, Understanding and Acting To Heal and Empower Victims”, Ms Collins outlined the pain and trauma of having been abused by a priest as a 13-year-old but also of having been blamed when she finally found the courage to tell her story, more than 30 years later.
“I was treated as someone with an agenda against the church, the police investigation was obstructed and the laity misled. I was distraught,” she said.
The best of her life began 15 years ago, she said, when her abuser was finally brought to justice. Since then, she has worked with the church to help improve itss child protection policies while working for justice for survivors.