ROME – Continuing its efforts to fight clerical sexual abuse, the Archdiocese of Mexico City presented on Wednesday an Interdisciplinary Team for Attention to Victims, that involves priests, lay people and survivors, including the director of SNAP-Mexico.
The proposal is a concrete response to the Feb. 21-24 summit on the protection of minors that took place in the Vatican, with the participation of the presidents of bishops’ conferences from all over the world.
Joaquin Aguilar, who represents survivors on the new team, was among those who introduced the initiative to the media on Wednesday. After acknowledging that it hasn’t always been easy for victims of clerical sexual abuse to have paths of communication with the archdiocese, he said that recently it’s the Church that has been reaching out to the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
He also said that the institution has taken the first steps towards an “integral reparation” of the damage done by abuse, such as the sanctioning of those responsible, crime prevention, and victim assistance.
“Is not easy; the road is long, but I want to emphasize that this team is one of the few that intends to work very well. That’s why I joined,” Aguilar said.
The team includes Aguilar; Father Andres Luis Garcia, who heads the ecclesial tribunal of the archdiocese; psychologist Zaira Noemi Rosales, who heads the Department of Child Protection of the archdiocese; Father Manuel Corral, Secretary for Institutional Relationships; and Marilu Esponda, Director of Communications for the archdiocese.
Esponda said that since 2018, the archdiocese received accusations of child sex abuse against 10 priests, and the cases are being studied together with the civil authorities. She said that the ten clerics have been suspended “ad cautelam,” preventing them from exercising ministry until their cases are decided.
She said the victims, as well as their family members, are receiving care, psychological and spiritual attention, as well as legal counsel to help them navigate both the civil and canonical procedures.
Esponda also said that the new team represents an open channel so that survivors of clerical sexual abuse, or those who detect an irregular situation, can reach out to the archdiocese, contacting Rosales either via phone or email.
Helping survivors, she said, is one of the most complicated things, but stated that financial compensation is a must, “we all have a right to this as victims, but the authorities determine how much is owed.”
The interdisciplinary team is intended as an instrument for the protection of victims and survivors, and is the first step of a broader strategy through which the archdiocese aims to create environments for the protection of minors in different social spheres, since the crime of sexual abuse is not only present in the Catholic Church, but can occur in other areas.
Esponda also said that the instruction the team received from Cardinal Carlos Aguiar Retes, the Archbishop of Mexico City, is clear: “Zero tolerance to every form of abuse. Absolute commitment to timely and effective prevention. Support and unambiguous solidarity for the victims. No opacity and — of course — full cooperation with the civil and ecclesial authorities for an effective justice.”
The Catholic Church in Mexico, she said, is “fully committed” to doing whatever it takes to eradicate these crimes from within the institution.
Before the press conference was over, the team also appealed to society, particularly the “people of good will,” so that they can recognize cases of abuse, “avoiding rumors, fighting and confronting defamation, and eradicating every form of cover-up.”
The project was originally announced by Esponda through a statement released March 6, in which she said that Aguiar had expressed his determination to resolve the problem of abuse “at the roots.”
“Fulfilling this responsibility implies, at the outset, knowing the status of historical cases, and of course, promptly, efficiently and transparently addressing any case that may arise in the Archdiocese of Mexico,” she wrote at the time.
On that date, she also stated that the interdisciplinary team will respond to any allegation promptly, committed to greater transparency and in collaboration with civil authorities, in order to guarantee “authentic justice” for the victims.
Survivors, she said, must always be “at the center.”
In that original statement, Esponda said that the idea of the interdisciplinary committee was born after the summit held in February. As he’s no longer the president of the Mexican bishop’s conference, Aguiar didn’t take part in the meeting. However, he was in Rome participating in a study session ahead of the upcoming Synod of Bishops on the Amazon, scheduled for next October.
While he was in Rome, Esponda wrote, Aguiar met with many bishops from around the world who had taken part in the abuse summit to hear about the discussion and conclusions of that event.
In the past weeks since the initiative was first announced, Rosales, whose phone and email are available on the archdiocesan website, received three calls. According to Esponda: Two were to request information, and one to set up an appointment with the team, presumably to present an allegation.