“On the right path”

With an international congress in Freising this week, the Catholic Church is taking stock of its fight against sexual abuse. In advance, those responsible expressed satisfaction with what has been achieved so far.

"We are on the right track," said Maltese Auxiliary Bishop-designate Charles J. Scicluna on Monday (29.10.2012) before the start of the meeting at a press conference in Munich. 70 percent of all 113 national Catholic bishops' conferences have now ied their own guidelines. This is a "very good brand".

In North and South America, all bishops' conferences have now complied with the stipulations of the Roman Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, its longtime "chief prosecutor" explained. Scicluna had been appointed auxiliary bishop in his native Malta by the pope in early October. In Africa, however, more than half were still missing. This fills him with a certain concern. In the European region, 7 of 33 conferences are obliged to do so, namely Bulgaria, Croatia, Latvia, Romania, Turkey, Hungary and Belarus.

In May 2011, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had urged all national bishops' conferences to ie their own guidelines within a year on how to deal with sexual abuse in the church. In May and June of this year, appropriate letters of warning were sent out, Scicluna said. In Germany, such requirements have already been in place since 2002. They were revised after the abuse scandal in 2010.

The ecclesiastical lawyer noted as "very positive" progress in the Church's cooperation with state authorities. Non-cooperation is "out", says Scicluna. Even in countries where there is no obligation to report abuse, church leaders have a duty to support victims in exercising their rights.

Zero tolerance
English psychiatrist Sheila Hollins, who will give one of the keynote lectures at the three-day congress, said protecting minors and other vulnerable adults from abuse must be a "global priority" for the church. This, he said, requires transparency. It must be made clear to both priests and lay employees that there is zero tolerance for abusive behavior. No one working in the church should be protected from prosecution if abuse comes to light, he said.

Hollins said her interest was primarily in helping church leaders improve their communication skills. Listening to abuse victims is painful and requires a lot of patience and empathy, he says. For the victim, being believed is an essential part of the healing process.

E-learning program
A multilingual e-learning program for church staff will also be presented at the conference. The first learning unit on the "basic understanding of child sexual abuse" was already released in English, Italian and German earlier this month. Spanish version to follow in January 2013. The course currently involves 235 people and 26 trainers from partner organizations in six countries. The prevention program is being developed by the Catholic Child Protection Center in Munich, supported by the archdiocese and the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.

The vice rector of the Gregorian University, Father Hans Zollner, said that in many countries effective child protection exists only on paper. That's where the Church can be an important ally in fighting this injustice, he said. Even though the ie of abuse has not been at the center of general attention for several months "at least in our latitudes," that is no reason for the church and society "not to take responsibility for the past and work for a better future," the Jesuit said.

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