ROME – Some 165 bishops from across Latin America are taking part this week in an on-line seminar on abuse prevention that includes top-level experts from both the region and Rome, based on the premise that although fighting abuse requires various forms of commitment and expertise, as far as the Catholic Church goes, the buck still stops on the bishop’s desk.
“Following the crisis that became public in the Church with regard to abuse, in recent years much emphasis has been placed on the role and responsibility of bishops, not only for the correct treatment of cases that come to their attention, but also with regard to the prevention of these situations,” said Argentine laywoman Maria Ines Franck, a bioethics and canon law expert who helped organize the seminar.
“Although this is an issue that requires the collaboration and work of specialists from various disciplines, the bishop is ultimately responsible for what happens in his diocese and, as such, must have knowledge, even if only general, of the various aspects that prevention and action require,” she said.
The list of professors tapped for the July 12-16 seminar includes Archbishop Charles Scicluna, of Malta, and one of the Vatican’s most respected sex crimes experts; Spanish Monsignor Jordi Bertomeu, from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and tapped by Pope Francis to investigate, together with Scicluna, abuses and cover-ups in Chile and Mexico; German Father Hans Zoller; Franck, who leads her country’s pastoral council for child protection; and Bishop Luis Manuel Ali Herrera of Colombia, a member of the papal Commission for the Protection of Minors.
Participants hail from Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela.
The seminar is being organized by CEPROME, the center for Child Protection of Mexico’s University, with experts from the Vatican’s Commission for the Protection of Minors; CELAM, which unites the Latin American bishops’ conferences; and financial support of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Crux spoke with Franck and Father Daniel del Portillo, both key members of a regional network that CEPROME has put together, promoting a synodal collaboration among those who fight against child abuse and its subsequent cover up.
“The course on prevention of sexual abuse of minors organized by CEPROME is part of an ongoing formation programmed on the subject, this time addressed to the Bishops of Latin America,” Franck said.
The importance of the course, she said, lies in the fact that it provides a both general and comprehensive view of the problem, which is constantly updated by the professors and authorities involved in the training.
Portillo added that the decision to organize a seminar addressed directly at the bishops stems from the concerns that some of them have expressed regarding how to best address clerical abuse, showing that they are “open to learning and to taking an interdisciplinary attitude when confronting these crimes.”
The learning curve that the Church has confronted when it comes to abuse, the Rome-based Mexican priest said, has “helped us understand that not only it’s not a univocal discourse, but also that not all abuse is sexual [some is abuse of power or conscience], not all abuse happens within the church, not all priests are abusers and not all bishops are involved in cover-up.”
Hence the need to generate training spaces for the different actors involved in abuse prevention, who are willing to learn how to better establish safe environments that foster prevention, he said, and the list of those willing to work on child protection includes people from different walks of life.
The seminar has an interdisciplinary approach, focusing not only on the Church’s law when it comes to abuse and the recent modification of the book VI of the Code of Canon law, but also a reflection on what the institution has done so far and what still needs to be done to fight clerical sexual abuse, dialogue with survivors, and also an analysis of abusers from a legal and clinical perspectives.
Although there have been spaces in various bishops’ conferences for training on this subject, Portillo believes that there’s a need to create among those in Latin America who work on this issue to “create an environment of synodality and collegiality in the search for different approaches, knowing the different realities of Latin America and being able to cooperate with one another.”
“The most difficult or tragic situations, such as these crimes that have affected the credibility of the Church, have to be faced as a community, where different realities come together and interdisciplinary approaches are applied,” he said.
According to Franck, it was important for organizers to not only put the bishops in contact with specialists, but to promote knowledge and encounters between bishops from different countries, promoting a dialogue that generates support and the possibility of sharing good practices.
“In short, it is one more initiative, which we hope will not be the only one, to help bishops become aware of the problem we face, and to promote the generation of safer environments for all in the Church,” she said.
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