ROME – Speaking at the daily press conference today on the summit of bishops on young people, a high-profile Italian cardinal confirmed that the question of the clerical sex abuse crisis “is thoroughly addressed” in the final document expected to be published later this week.
“It’s not enough to condemn abuse, we must do everything to prevent it and the Church is using every method to do that,” said Italian Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti, president of the Italian Bishops’ Conference (CEI) Oct. 25.
Quoting St. Paul, the cardinal said that while the issue does not concern the entire Church, but only a small part, it still damages the entire Catholic community as a single body.
“The entire organism of the Church, with the Holy Father at the head, suffers for what happened,” Bassetti said, adding that “this was stated clearly” during the bishop’s gathering.
“But the journey must continue,” he added.
Bishops from all over the world convened at the Vatican this month for a Synod on Young People, Faith and Vocational Discernment and are expected to release the final document on Friday. News outlets, including Crux, have already had a preview of the contents of the text, which is expected to tackle the subjects of sex abuse and the role of women in the Church.
Citing the “painful experience in Latin America,” which – particularly in Chile – has witnessed one of the worst and most widespread clerical sex abuse crisis to date, Archbishop Hector Miguel Cabrejos Vidarte of Trujillo and head of the Peruvian Episcopal Conference, called on the Church to “renew and recover.”
Sex abuse “damages the credibility of the entire Church,” the cardinal said, though it does not represent the entire Catholic reality.
“This is not to defend the Church, it’s the truth: Not all priests are pedophiles and not all pedophiles are priests,” Cabrejos said, adding all episcopal conferences worldwide are working to “heal and analyze” the question of sexual abuse.
Cardinal Arlindo Gomes Furtado of Santiago de Cabo Verde in the Republic of Cape Verde called the abuse crisis within the Church “a terrible scourge of which we must rid ourselves.”
The African cardinal also attempted to put things in perspective by stating that the issue of sexual abuse “is a real problem and challenge for our modern society and not only for the Church,” adding that the “fundamental causes lie within the family.”
He emphasized the need for collaboration with experts, theologians and scientist to look into the issue to heal not only the Catholic reality but also today’s culture so that children may be safe.
“Within the family is the cause and the cure,” he added.
For Brazilian Lucas Barboza Galhardo, who is among the young people invited to attend the synod, the question of sexual abuse cannot be separated from the abuse of power, stating that “we young people are very interested in this issue.”
Barboza expressed hope that the Church may find concrete paths to correct “this terrible situation” and said that “the first thing [young people] want to have is an answer to these negative things.”
He is among 35 young people who participated at the synod of bishops, cheering, clapping or remaining silent as bishops spoke and presented their points of view – a unicum in the Church’s millenary experience.
Barboza said that not only was it difficult to listen to the stories of survivors of sexual abuse, but that the witness of many Christians facing persecution across the globe was a painful reminder of the diversity of experiences within the Church.
“The Church of abuse is not the Church of Christ, nor that in which we young people believe in,” he said. “The Church that we experience and want to share is that of joy, love, walking together and closeness.”
Bassetti said that the participation of young people “made us experience the wind of Pentecost,” as they sat behind the synodal fathers and “the multitude of skullcaps that looked like a waterfall” within the hall.
He looked ahead to February when the heads of bishops’ conferences all over the world will gather at the Vatican to exclusively discuss the topic of clerical sex abuse.
In the meantime, the Italian bishops are edging nearer to an important milestone on the question, when following their general assembly in early November, they will publish new guidelines on sexual abuse at Pope Francis’s request and in collaboration with the Center for Child Protection at the Gregorian University in Rome.
“We need clarity,” he said, adding that the new document – now in the hands of smaller commissions – will stress the need for “a prevention effort,” a significant shift from CEI’s 2014 guidelines, which focused solely on mandatory measures after the abuse already occurred.
“We need clarity and full collaboration with civil and judiciary authorities,” Bassetti added, while completely taking off the table the option of having priests break the confessional seal to denounce sexual abuse, controversially stating that it would cause “worse damage than pedophilia.”
The cardinal also brought attention to the need to scrutinize seminaries. “We must evaluate from every angle the candidates to priesthood and do everything to prevent, which is the most important thing.”