MEXICO CITY – Three years after a national congress regarding the sexual abuse of minors, the Pontifical University of Mexico in Mexico City is again hosting a conference discussing sex abuse in the continent’s Catholic communities.
“The Latin American Church cannot expect significant change if we continue with the same things we’ve been doing,” said conference organizer Father Daniel Portillo Trevizo, Director of the Center of Investigation and Interdisciplinary Formation for the Protection of Minors (CEPROME).
“There are concrete actions that cannot wait if the integrity and the dignity of minors are to be a priority rather than a second-class issue,” continued Portillo.
While there have been recently publicized gaffes by prelates suggesting it’s time to move past the Church’s sex abuse crisis, including one by an Argentine bishop who later stepped aside, that idea seems far from the spirit here in Mexico City.
Seriousness of the situation and the desire to speak clearly and openly about it is the order of the day.
Church officialdom was well-represented with Cardinal Carlos Aguiar Retes, archbishop of Mexico City; the Vatican’s nuncio to Mexico, Archbishop Franco Coppola; and the rector of the university, Dr. Mario Angel Flores Ramos.
Aguiar discussed what he sees as the roots of the crisis, saying there are basically three elements, two in the “social sphere” and one that is exclusively ecclesial.
The first, he said, is the crisis in the family.
“If a person doesn’t experience what it is like to be loved freely, mercifully, as most mothers love their children, that human being grows up with deep wounds,” Aguiar said, which leads to corrupt and criminal behavior unless those wounds are addressed.
Second, he says there’s an educational crisis, with a focus only on knowledge but not the integral growth of the person.
Finally, Aguiar said there’s a crisis within the Church. He said that what he knows of the Church in Mexico and the Universal Church, there’s been too much emphasis on transmitting Christian doctrine, with none on the personal encounter with Christ.
One of the biggest challenges he’s encountered during his 23 years as a bishop, Aguiar said, is the fact that many within the Church do things that are good, but not necessarily what God wants.
During his opening remarks, Coppola agreed with Aguiar in general, but noted that it is a positive sign that the Catholic Church is moving from receiving allegations and meting out punishment and justice- “all of which must continue”- and focusing on prevention.
“We need to confront this issue,” Coppola said. “If we don’t, it’s like trying to put out a fire with a glass of water.”
The conference is billed as an effort to generate “an open and exhaustive discussion to create conscience and mobilize actions offering better protections” for minors specifically in Latin America where the problem has been coming to a head over the past year and a half, exploding in newsworthy fashion in Chile in particular.
No country is unaffected. Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Panama, Peru, Puerto Rico and Venezuela were all represented at the conference. The 448 participants are fairly equally divided between men and women, clerics and religious and lay people.
CEPROME focuses on the formation and education of priests, seminarians, religious and pastoral workers, and their goal this November is to spread a wide net in advancing the agenda of protecting the young from the sin of sex abuse.
In the words of Portillo, “it is the moment to abandon our cosmetic actions in which we settle for showing society that we are doing something without actually getting involved.”
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