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Analysis: What can the Vatican sex abuse summit deliver?

February 18, 2019 CNA Daily News 0

Vatican City, Feb 18, 2019 / 03:45 pm (CNA).- At a press conference in Rome this morning, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago underscored the scope and expectations around this week’s global Vatican summit on sexual abuse.

 

The cardinal made it clear that the three-day meeting was strictly dealing with the abuse of minors, and would not look at wider issues of clerical sexual abuse – most notably the sexual abuse of adults, including seminarians.

 

Cupich warned that “including other topics” would “inflate expectations” and distract from “the task at hand.”

 

The cardinal’s comments came barely 48 hours after it was announced that Theodore McCarrick had been expelled from the clerical state for a number of sexual abuse-related offences, including adult seminarians in dioceses he formerly led.

 

The hour-long question and answer session offered more details about the aims of the summit, which will include the heads of bishops’ conferences from around the world. But the scrupulously narrow focus on minors, and the stated objectives of the conference raise a number of questions about what American Catholics, including many bishops, can hope to see from Rome in response to months of scandal.

 

The clear goal of the meeting is to impress upon the world’s bishops the seriousness of dealing with child sexual abuse at all levels of the Church hierarchy. To this end, Cupich highlighted measures already in place in the United States which, he noted, were proving successful, such as safe environment programs and enhanced screening of seminary candidates.

 

More broadly, bishops in the United States have noted the effectiveness of the 2002 reforms brought in by the Dallas Charter and USCCB Essential Norms, which have coincided with a steep decline in reported abuse cases.

 

But if the wider purpose of the three-day meeting is to impress the seriousness of the child abuse crisis on bishops from elsewhere, and even underscore effective measures already in place in the U.S., American focus remains on accountability for bishops and abuse cases of all kinds involving them personally.

 

 

Discussing the future of episcopal accountability, Cupich made a surprising reference to Come una madre amorivole, the 2016 motu proprio issued by Pope Francis setting out legal mechanisms for reporting and handling complaints against bishops, including for negligence or abuse of office in abuse cases.

 

“It is the document Come una madre amorivole that outlines procedures for holding bishops accountable,” Cupich said. The reference to Come una madre was surprising to many, since Pope Francis had previously said in public that he had abandoned these very processes.

 

During the inflight press conference on his return from Dublin in October last year, Pope Francis said he had effectively junked the procedures of Come una madre because they “weren’t practical and it also wasn’t convenient for the different cultures of the bishops that had to be judged.”

 

Francis even went as far as expressing frustration that prominent reform advocate Marie Collins, herself a survivor of sexual abuse and a former member of Francis’ own Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, was “a bit fixated” with the document not being used.

 

For Cupich to suggest that Come una madre was once again a living document suggests a possible second papal reversal by Francis on his own reforms, even though his original reservations seemed to center on the very global applicability this week’s summit is meant to address.

 

 

In November, an instruction from the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops prevented U.S. bishops from voting on a raft of proposed measures aimed at increasing episcopal accountability – reforms which would have addressed many of the gaps left by the non-adoption of Come una madre in the first place.

 

The move left many frustrated but, on Monday, Cupich called the Baltimore measures “problematic” and said he did not believe they would have been adopted even if a vote had taken place.

 

Cupich floated an alternative proposal of his own during the Baltimore meeting. Reportedly drafted in concert with Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Cupich’s plan would rely upon existing structures within metropolitan provinces, instead of the creation of an independent national body to oversee complaints against bishops.

 

Both the original proposals and the so-called “metropolitan model” were turned over to a special USCCB committee for further study, and are expected to be discussed again in more detail when the bishops next meet, in June of this year.  

 

Despite the Baltimore setback, Cupich said, bishops’ conferences would have an important role to play in the future.

 

“The Holy Father does want episcopal conferences to take responsibility, that was never a question, but we have to do it in such a way that we work together with each other — that is part of synodality — that is part of the collegiality that this conference wanted to highlight,” Cupich said Monday.

 

What role this will be remains to be seen and, at least so far as it extends to episcopal abuse of adults like McCarrick’s, it seems unlikely it will become much clearer during this week’s summit.

 

 

One thing the Chicago cardinal did say was that bishops have a personal responsibility to face up to.

 

“The Holy Father wants to make it clear to the bishops around the world, that each one of them has to claim responsibility and ownership for this problem… to make sure that people understand, on an individual basis as bishops, what their responsibilities are.”

 

Many commentators have noted in recent months that personal initiative and ownership have been distinctly lacking in some American bishops’ response to recent scandals, with many appearing to be waiting for a lead to follow, either from the USCCB or Rome.

 

A few have begun to take their own steps, especially after the inability to move forward as a group in Baltimore. Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore recently announced an independent reporting mechanism for accusations of sexual abuse in the archdiocese.

 

Other options have been discussed. It has also been proposed that the canonical role of the Promoter of Justice could be given a broader remit in diocesan child protection policy, acting as a sort of attorney general by appointment of the local bishop, but with an enhanced degree of autonomy of action.

 

Other suggestions that bishops could implement without having to seek higher approval have included the passage of more nuanced and detailed laws for handling escalating clerical misconduct, in the hopes of addressing problem behavior early – before an act of child abuse is committed.

 

Such action would also allow bishops to address the sexual abuse of victims who are not technically minors, including people in their late teenage years and seminarians. Many have noted that the current legal framework, solely reliant on an age of consent, sees a case of child sexual abuse become an instance of mere moral failure when the victim turns eighteen.

 

 

Cupich also told the world’s media that “there is a new day in terms of transparency,” and said that he hoped the upcoming summit would be remembered as a “turning point” in this regard.

 

It remains to be seen if this newfound commitment to transparency will extend to responding to calls for some kind of full disclosure about how Theodore McCarrick was able to rise through the episcopal ranks, despite apparent decades of complaints about his sexual abuse.

 

In Baltimore in November, Cupich spoke against a resolution by American bishops to encourage the Holy See to make available any documentation it could on that subject as soon as possible.

 

While talk at the press conference was of new days and strong messages, there is no shortage of Catholics in the United States and elsewhere already looking at this week’s meeting with a level of skepticism.

 

Indeed, the real challenge facing Cardinal Cupich and the other organizers may prove to be less about lowering “inflated expectations,” and more about convincing Catholics wearied by scandal that any progress made in the coming days will be meaningful.

[…]

No Picture
News Briefs

Report: Children living in the shadow of war

February 18, 2019 CNA Daily News 0

Denver, Colo., Feb 18, 2019 / 01:50 pm (CNA).- A new report commissioned by an international children’s charity has revealed that 420 million children, or nearly one in five worldwide, lived in “areas affected by armed conflict and war&rdqu… […]

No Picture
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Analysis: Pope Francis’ position on Venezuela

February 16, 2019 CNA Daily News 2

Vatican City, Feb 16, 2019 / 11:00 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis’ recent letter to Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro confirmed the Holy See’s position on the Venezuelan crisis, while demonstrating that Maduro has become an increasingly isolated global figure.

While the Holy See has long maintained its diplomatic ties with Venezuela, and for this reason a papal representative to Caracas took part in Maduro’s swearing in for his second term Jan. 10, Pope Francis and the Holy See’s diplomacy has always been on the Venezuelan bishops side, and backed their efforts to restore social peace, relief the population and call for new and free elections.

The pope’s letter, however, showed that Maduro’s request for a mediation can take place only under some specific conditions.
 
This is the reason why the letter was not leaked by Maduro’s entourage, but from other sources that gave it to the Italian newspaper Il Corriere della Sera. The Holy See Press Office limited itself to saying that it would not commentc on a private letter, indirectly confirming that the pope might have actually written the letter.
 
The letter, two pages and a half long, is dated Feb. 7, 2019, and it is addressed to “Excelentismo señor Nicolas Maduro Moros, Caracas” (To Most Excellent Mister Nicolas Maduro Moros).
 
The pope did not refer to Maduro as president, and in that way his letter backed the Venezuelan bishops. Gathered for their 111st plenary assembly on Jan. 9, the bishops said that “Maduro’s claim to start a new presidential mandate on Jan 10 is illegitimate at his roots, and paves the way for the unrecognition of the government, as democratic foundations on justice and right are lacking.
 
In the letter, Pope Francis reminded Maduro that the Holy See has been committed to mediation in the past, but in all of the attempts “what had been agreed in the meetings was not followed by concrete action to carry out the accords,” and that “words seemed to delegitimize
the good propositions put into a written form.”
 
Pope Francis also stressed that he did not back “any kind of dialogue,” but only “the dialogue that takes places when all conflicting parties put the common good above any other interest and work for unity and peace.”
 
Pope Francis also recalled a letter by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of State, that set the conditions for a dialogue: liberation of political prisoners, re-establishment of the constitutional assembly, open access for humanitarian aid, free political elections.
 
Those conditions are still in effect.

The letter is tailored in a perfect diplomatic style.

On one hand, Pope Francis takes the bishops’ position. On the other hand, he places the Holy See in the middle between two positions: that of the US and Europe, eager to recognize Juan Guaidò as interim president; and that of China, Russia, Turkey and Iran, who are on the opposite position.
 
As a diplomatic habit, the Holy See never breaks diplomatic ties. Papal ambassadors are called to stay on the ground as long as it is possible, to support the bishops and to carry on institutional dialogue that can resolve into an aid for population.
 
For example, the Holy See never broke diplomatic ties with Cuba, not even when Castro regime persecuted Christians. In fact, ties stayed because there was an ongoing persecution.

Read through this lens, the Secretariat of State’s decision not to meet at an institutional level the delegation Guaidò sent to Italy for talks with Italian government on Feb. 11 should be no surprise.
 
The Holy See makes no interference in domestic policies, and the meeting with Guaidò could have been instrumentalized. The delegation reportedly met with Archbishop Edgar Pena Parra, deputy to the Secretariat of State, who is Venezuelan. The meeting was framed as a meeting of a Venezuelan that works in Secretariat of State and his concerned for his country and some representatives coming from his country.
 
Pope Francis’ statements on the matter have always been prudent. Coming back from Panama on Jan. 28, Pope Francis told journalists that it is not his role as a pastor to pick political sides, and said he is terrified of the possibility of a bloodshed there.
 
However, the narrative that presents the pope on a different side from that of Venezuelan bishops is not correct at all.
 
It must not be forgotten that Pope Francis, after a visit from the presidency of the Venezuelan bishops’ conference, said his voice “resounds in the voice of the Venezuelan bishops.”
 
Pope Francis’ followed each step of the Venezuelan crisis. On April 10, 2014 he addressed an appeal to political leaders of Venezuela and asked to respect truth and justice. On March 1, 2015, the Pope condemned the death of some students involved in pacific protests.
 
The Holy See accepted to conduct a facilitation of the dialogue in October 2016, and on Dec. 2, 2016 Cardinal Parolin stressed the four conditions. Coming back from Egypt on Apr. 29, 2017, Pope Francis denounced that the government did not accomplish these conditions.
 
On April 30, 2017 after the prayer of Regina Coeli, Pope Francis spoke of the “dramatic news” on Venezuela and “the worsening of clashes there, with many people reported dead, injured and detained”, and appealed “to the government and all the members of Venezuelan society to avoid any further forms of violence, to respect human rights and to negotiate solutions to the serious humanitarian, social, political and economic crisis that is exhausting the population”.
 
The action of bishops moved along with Pope Francis’ declaration. This combined action encouraged all the local and regional Catholic realities of Latin America to take a common stance: the Conference of Religious Brothers and Sisters in Venezuela, the Jesuits of Venezuela, but also the Colombian, Ecuadorian, Uruguayan, Chilean and Bolivian bishops conference took strong stances on the Venezuelan crisis, which weakened Maduro position.
 
Despite the will to keep a diplomatic neutrality, also the Holy See diplomacy was very active.

Cardinal Parolin, who was nuncio to Venezuela from 2009 to 2013, stressed on May 13, 2017 that “the only solution for Venezuela is elections.”

On Aug. 4, 2017, the Pope sent via the Secretariat of State a communiqué asking “all the political actors, and in particular the government, to ensure the full respect of the human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as of current Constitution; to suspend initiative like the new constitutional assembly that, instead of favoring reconciliation and paz, foster a climate of tensions and confrontations; to create conditions for a negotiated solution”.
 
It is also noteworthy that, in his urbi et orbi message of Christmas 2018, Pope Francis included Venezuela among the countries that are enduring serious humanitarian crisis, on a par with Yemen, Syria and Nicaragua: the decision turned out to be prescient.
 
The pope also spoke about Venezuela on his new year speech to the diplomatic corps, and said that he wishes “that peaceful institutional means can be found to provide solutions to the political, social and economic crisis, means that can make it possible to help all those suffering from the tensions of recent years, and to offer all the Venezuelan people a horizon of hope and peace.”
 
The pope’s letter to Maduro comes at the end of a path that the pope and the Venezuelan bishops have been following since the beginning. The Holy See will never break diplomatic ties, and will always seek dialogue and reconciliation. But, on the other hand, bishops on the ground are backed in supporting the population and to work for the common good.
 
This is, in the end, how the pontifical diplomacy works.

 

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