MEXICO CITY — A Mexican archbishop has said it’s time for prelates to own up to the mistakes they’ve made handling clerical sexual abuse cases, including what he euphemistically called the “geographical solution” of simply moving predators from one assignment to another without addressing their behavor.
“We bishops need to acknowledge the mistakes of the past: we weren’t conscious of the seriousness of the issue, and the solutions we gave weren’t the right ones,” said Archbishop Rogelio Cabrera, of Monterrey, president of the Mexican bishops’ conference and treasurer of the Latin American Conference of Bishops (CELAM).
“The geographic solution of thinking that the [problem] is solved by moving the criminal from one place to another made everything worse, because the problem spread,” Cabrera said.
Every bishop who’s been a bishop for more than 10 years, he said, “has to confess that our solutions were not the best.”
Cabrera also said that bishops need to “abandon their prejudices” and stop assuming that when a survivor of clerical sexual abuse approaches them it’s only because they want money, behaving defensively when they encounter victims, causing even further damage.
“This is a call to responsibility: we cannot say that [helping victims] is not our problem,” he said.
Cabrera’s words came on Wednesday, during a Nov. 6-8 Latin American workshop on abuse prevention in the Catholic Church, organized by CEPROME, the center for the protection of children at Mexico’s Pontifical University.
At the core of the three-day discussion is the prevention of sexual abuse and vocational discernment in the Church. The speakers include Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago; Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta; and Jesuit Father Hans Zollner of Germany, director of the child protection center at Rome’s Gregorian University.
All were among the organizers of last February’s child protection summit that took place in the Vatican.
The 450 participants hailed from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Panama, Peru, Puerto Rico and Venezuela.
Cabrera noted that during the February summit in the Vatican that brought together the presidents of bishops’ conferences from around the world, as well as survivors and specialists, clericalism was pointed out as one of the root causes for the problem of clerical sexual abuse and its subsequent cover-up.
“We continue to think of the Church as powerful, that wants to have the last word, as an interlocutor to civil authority, convinced that everyone has to say what it says,” he said. “Furthermore, we have a church that believes bishops and priests are special and deserve VIP treatment. If we don’t modify this ecclesiological view, all our efforts will be insufficient.”
Priests and bishops continue to underline their importance in the Church and society because “we have an erroneous view of the Church.”
According to Cabrera, it is time for the Church to recognize its sins and mistakes, because until this happens, actually transforming it won’t be possible. Beyond the Church owning up to its mistakes, the prelate underlined the need for accountability, transparency and trying to repair the damage inflicted on the victims.
“We cannot deny reality anymore,” he said. “One crime of this nature is too grave. If it is replicated, the situation becomes very grave. For the Church, this has been its tsunami.”
“The Church is obligated to recognize that it cannot hide, it cannot cover up,” he said. “Society is right in demanding for us to act.”
Part of recognizing the crisis, the prelate said, includes acknowledging that this is not just a problem in Boston, Germany or Spain, but present all over the world.
Having recognized the clerical abuse crisis, he said, the Catholic Church then has to move to taking legal action, because this is not a matter than can be “solved at home.”
“This culture we had- and sometimes still have- of covering up, can be no more,” Cabrera said. “We are citizens where we live, and legality is part of that vision of being part of the world.”
Speaking about accountability, he said that clerics believe that they don’t owe explanations to anyone, and that most priests had the idea that each could do what they wanted to do.
Being accountable he said, also demands of bishops to be attentive to the “holiness” of their priests, and to understanding that they’re also accountable to civil authorities.
Repairing the damage done to victims, he said, is necessary, and survivors have the right to receive professional help, and the criminal justice system, but also the Church, are responsible for making sure this happens.
Transparency, he said, is keeping the community informed “about the situation of the Church,” without hiding information or exaggerating it either. When it comes to revealing the names of the priests found guilty, he said the Catholic Church in Mexico is banned by law from doing so unless the actual victim has made it public.
Though many cases are still being investigated, he said, 152 priests were laicized in Mexico in recent years due to abuse.
Referring to CELAM, he said that the conference is committed to protecting minors, thinking of common initiatives of prevention, with permanent links to share what each national conference is doing, which must include going through the records to understand what has been done wrongly through the years, not just recently: “we have to do so before the civil justice system demands we do.”
Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma
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