Leaders of all bishops' conferences will meet at the Vatican in February 2019 © Paul Haring (CBA)
February 2019 will show how the universal church intends to deal with the ie of abuse. Expectations are high, especially since the ie was raised at the Synod of Bishops in October, but nothing concrete was said.
The convening of the heads of all the bishops' conferences, the heads of the curia and leading representatives of religious orders at the Vatican on the subject of abuse in the church is unprecedented. So at first it was also not very clear how exactly the assembly called by Francis should proceed.
The first contours are now emerging: The meeting is, contrary to various claims, not a synod of bishops. However, it should resemble it and use appropriate experience, explained Malta's Archbishop Charles Scicluna.
Similar approach to synods of bishops
He is part of the four-person preparatory committee for the anti-abuse summit; the other members are Cardinal Blase J. Cupich (Chicago), Cardinal Oswald Gracias (Bombay) and German Jesuit and psychologist P. Hans Zollner, director of the Child Protection Center at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Children.
The preparatory body is to meet for the first time in mid-December at the Vatican. In interviews, the members already revealed the first details, which are similar to the procedure at synods of bishops: A basis for the deliberations is to be drawn up from questionnaires sent to all participants.
The February 2019 meeting will feature plenary sessions, small groups organized by language with work assignments, and hearings from external experts and stakeholders. Thus, according to Scicluna, bishops who have given little or no attention to the ie so far could conceivably have to listen to victims of abuse and their relatives, repentant perpetrators, lawyers and psychologists.
A service of repentance is also planned, attended by victims of abuse.
According to Vatican spokesman Greg Burke, a total of about 180 participants are expected: about 113 presidents of bishops' conferences and 70 experts, among them heads of Vatican dicasteries, religious and victims of abuse. Pope Francis wants to be present at all working sessions. So the meeting, which is supposed to be about how the church deals with sexual abuse and how to prevent it, resembles a synod of bishops in many ways.
Participation of those affected still unclear
In addition to the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Children, led by Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley OFM.Cap (Boston) also included two laywomen: Italians Gabriella Gambino and Linda Ghisoni, undersecretaries of the Vatican's Office for Laity and Family and Life.
Which and how many of those affected by abuse should be involved is still open. A Vatican announcement on this is expected in December. It will also be interesting to see what weight they will carry at the meeting. So far, it is said that they should be heard both in the preparation and during the meeting.
Vatican spokesman Burke had stressed that the consultations were "primarily for bishops". This reference is likely to dampen hopes for lay say in decisions.
It is also still unclear what the outcome of the consultations will be. Is a final document like at synods planned?? After all, Burke stressed, the bishops bear "a lot of responsibility for this serious problem". Scicluna stressed that the February meeting was "only the beginning of a process".