MUMBAI, India – The only non-Western member of the committee organizing the Feb. 21-24 Vatican summit on clerical sexual abuse can contribute “deep insights” at the meeting, according to a member of the pope’s commission for child protection.
Indian Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai joins Chicago Cardinal Blasé Cupich, Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna and German Jesuit Father Hans Zollner to lead the efforts to organize the event, which will bring together the presidents of every bishops’ conference in the world.
Sister Arina Gonsalves, an Indian nun and member of the Vatican’s Commission for the Protection of Minors, said Gracias’s “wide experience” would be useful: The cardinal serves on the pope’s C9 council of cardinal advisors, leads India’s bishops’ conference, and just concluded a term as the president of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences.
“He can contribute deep insights on various topics with Asian perspective and therefore his contribution will be rich and varied,” she told Crux.
“The proposal for such a meeting was developed by the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, was reviewed by the Council of Cardinals, of which Cardinal Oswald Gracias is a member,” she said.
The commission was established by Pope Francis in 2014, and is headed by Boston Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley. Zollner also serves on the commission, which has been tasked by the pontiff in helping to organize the February summit.
Gonsalves knows the cardinal well, since she is a principal of a school in the Archdiocese of Bombay. She has also worked as a consulter to her archdiocese in cases of sexual abuse of minors.
“From my experience, I know that Cardinal Gracias has taken the protection of minors very, very seriously. His Eminence has promulgated the Child Protection Policy in the Archdiocese of Bombay since July 16, 2015,” Gonsalves said.
“All the schools under the patronage of Archdiocesan Board of Education have implemented the Child Protection Policy in the schools. The principals and the teachers are given orientation programmes on this topic. Also in the clergy meetings, the cardinal has firmly stated a zero-tolerance policy regarding child abuse in Church-run institutions. Every year during the Archdiocesan Board of Education meeting, in his presidential address, he stresses the need of protecting children from abuse and creating a safe environment in our institutions,” the nun said.
She also said that as president of India’s bishops’ conference, Gracias has formulated guidelines for the protection of minors and vulnerable adults.
“The cardinal himself supports victims of abuse, by listening to them with compassion and understanding. He has taken steps to protect children in our archdiocese by making and implementing various [safeguarding] policies,” Gonsalves said.
“In this background, Cardinal Oswald Gracias’s knowledge on the canonical and moral perspectives will be effective to the conference. Since the cardinal is a well-known figure in the Roman Catholic Church worldwide, his contribution will be valuable and constructive on this topic,” she told Crux.
The meeting comes on the heels of what many have dubbed was the “summer of shame” for the Church following revelations of abuse in countries around the world.
In the United States, a Pennsylvania Grand Jury report detailed some 1,000 cases of child abuse carried out by some 300 predator priests, and accusations of abuse and harassment by ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick were publicly revealed after years of rumors.
The abuse scandal threatened to overshadow the pope’s visit to Ireland for the World Meeting of Families in August.
Newspaper exposés on clerical abuse also appeared in Germany, the Netherlands, and other countries.
Yet divisions among Church leaders were made apparent during October’s Synod of Bishops meeting in Rome, with many prelates from Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe and Italy resisting efforts to publicly proclaim a commitment to “zero tolerance.”
Gonsalves told Crux the “main thrust” of the February meeting will be to make clear the necessity of a commitment to zero tolerance in the area of sexual abuse of the minors, to work for greater transparency when dealing with abuse, and to encourage all religious orders to adopt a similar policy and cooperate with civil and legal authorities.
“The Church believes that we must place the support and pastoral care to the survivors first,” the nun said, adding that this requires the participation of the laity.
“This is a long journey for all of us and in this journey, we need the support of Catholic families and that requires a partnership between the laity and clergy in responding to the failures of Church authorities by holding them accountable for the crimes against children and vulnerable adults,” she said.
Gonsalves also downplayed the meaning behind O’Malley’s omission from the organizing committee, saying that as president of the Commission for the Protection of Minors and member of the C9, the Boston cardinal is “part of the group.”