MEXICO CITY — Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago said Friday that the path of ecclesial purification from clerical sexual abuse begins by acknowledging the bravery of the victims who have come forth.

“We need to listen to and accompany victim-survivors,” he said. “We owe much to them. It is because of their courage that the church has begun the essential process of authentic purification.”

Cleaning up the crisis, he said, begins at a level of “solidarity with the victims, embracing our connection with them, at the deep level of our common vulnerability.”

Cupich also said that if the hierarchy doesn’t connect with those who have been hurt by clerical abuse, prelates will react passively in the best of cases, but in many others “defensively,” causing even more hurt.

The words from the cardinal, tapped by Pope Francis as an organizer of a summit on the protection of children held in the Vatican last February, came as he closed a Nov. 6-8 seminar on the protection of minors in Mexico’s Pontifical University.

The lineup featured Chilean abuse survivor Juan Carlos Cruz; Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna; and German Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, who, like Cupich, helped organize the February summit. The event was organized by the Interdisciplinary Center of Investigation and Formation for the Protection of Minors (CEPROME).

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Cupich’s talk was centered on the need for “purification” in the Church, and he said that it must include four key elements, saying he personally experienced their importance when he first met an abuse survivor as a young bishop.

He spoke about having encountered a man, soon after being ordained a bishop in 1998, who had been abused by his priest for four years, starting when he was nine. The abuse happened after Sunday Mass where the survivor served as an altar boy. Afterwards, the priest would walk the boy home and have a meal with the family.

At the survivor’s request, Cupich organized an encounter between him and the priest, who didn’t deny the allegations. He was immediately removed from ministry, taken to civil authorities and removed from the priesthood by the Vatican.

Cupich went to the parish where the priest had ministered and spoke with the community. Together with them, he removed a picture of the priest from the facility.

From that first experience, he said, he took away four elements of purification, the first being “solidarity” with victims and survivors.

“As I heard this victim, I realized I was listening to a nine-year-old boy, who was speaking to me with the vulnerability we have at that age,” he said, asking prelates who meet survivors to make their best effort to connect with people strong enough to come forward.

Quoting French priest and philosopher Henri de Lubac’s The Splendor of the Church, Cupich said no one can deny their shortcomings: “We are all human,” de Lubac wrote, “and none of us is unaware of our own wretchedness and incapacity; for after all, we keep on having our noses rubbed in our own limitations. We have all, at some time or other, caught ourselves red-handed . . . trying to serve a holy cause by dubious means.”

The second element, Cupich said, is “synodality,” saying the Church must walk together towards the protection of minors, survivors and victims.

It should never be suggested, Cupich said, that victims have to overcome what happened to them or that they have to leave it behind, because it’s “a part of our history.”

To follow the risen Christ, he said, is to walk with those who are wounded, and the victims and survivors of clerical sexual abuse are a “manifestation of the risen Lord.”

The third element is “conversion,” which he believes is something bishops in the United States failed to do after the Dallas Charter in 2002 following the coverage in the Boston Globe.

“In 2002, our Episcopal Conference and each diocese established procedures to deal with priests who have abused,” he said. “Yet, as it is clear now, we failed to hold ourselves accountable as bishops.”

This failure has exposed the flaw “in our approach to purifying the Church of this scourge,” Cupich said, reading his speech in Spanish. “We lost sight of the truth in our tradition that purification comes through a conversion that costs us something and makes demands, not just in one area, but on all aspects of our lives.”

Cupich argued that what the U.S. bishops did after 2002 was a “cheap” purification: “Was this not the cheap purification of cover-up? Was this not looking the other way when warning signs demanded attention? Was this not failing to hold one another accountable as bishops? Was this not the moral laziness of believing that policies on a piece of paper alone would be enough?”

Transparency, the last element Cupich spoke about, opens “new doors for the healing of those who have been wounded.”

Being open about abuse cases and admitting when mistakes from the past are found, he said, is necessary, underscoring the limitations of the hierarchy and their need for everyone to help in the purification process.

“We no longer have to pretend that church leaders were not capable of making bad decisions,” Cupich said. “When we confront the past with clarity, we discover the profound sense of atonement and the humility that recognizes that sin has invaded the core of our ecclesial life.”

At the end of his 45-minute talk, the cardinal of Chicago, generally perceived as a close adviser of Francis, was asked about a report on the crimes of a “former cardinal” that so far has been kept secret.

Though the question didn’t specifically name him, it was a clear reference to American Theodore McCarrick, who was removed from the priesthood by the pontiff this year, after he was found guilty of sexually abusing minors.

Cupich said that of the four things he had mentioned, transparency is “probably the most difficult one” as it means different things in different cultures, but “we have to be patient with each other and help one another.”

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma

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