ROME – With just two months to go until a high-stakes Vatican summit on the global clerical sex abuse crisis, organizers have asked heads of bishops’ conferences to prepare for the gathering by meeting with survivors to understand the gravity of the harm caused.
In a letter published Dec. 18, the four-member organizing team said that without a comprehensive and communal response to the abuse crisis, “not only will we fail to bring healing to victim survivors, but the very credibility of the Church to carry on the mission of Christ will be in jeopardy throughout the world.”
A first step to addressing the crisis, the letter said, is to recognize “the truth of what has happened.” To this end, the committee urged presidents of bishops’ conferences to meet abuse survivors in their home countries ahead of the Feb. 21-24 summit in order “to learn first-hand the suffering that they have endured.”
Along with the request to meet survivors, the committee also asked prelates to fill out a questionnaire they said would serve as a tool for gathering information, voicing opinions “constructively and critically” and helping to get “a full picture of the situation in the Church” as the gathering draws near.
“Each of us needs to own this challenge, coming together in solidarity, humility, and penitence to repair the damage done, sharing a common commitment to transparency, and holding everyone in the Church accountable,” they said, and gave Jan. 15, 2019 as a deadline for the questionnaire responses.
Called by Pope Francis to address the global clerical abuse crisis scarring Catholicism throughout the globe, the summit will gather together some 180 people from around the world, including the heads of bishops’ conferences, members of Vatican departments, members of religious orders and victims themselves.
The four-person organizing committee, announced last month, includes Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago; Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, adjunct secretary for the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who once served as the Vatican’s leading prosecutor on child abuse and who has played an instrumental role in cleaning up the abuse scandals in Chile; Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors and head of the Center for Child Protection at the Pontifical Gregorian University; and Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai, who also serves on Francis’s council of cardinal advisors.
In addition to the four prelates on the organizing committee, Francis has also tapped Dr. Gabriella Gambino, undersecretary for the life section of the Vatican department for Laity, Family and Life, and Dr. Linda Ghisoni, undersecretary for the lay section of the same department, to help in the preparation work.
Though no formal program or list of participants has been released, survivors are expected to play a prominent role in both the preparation and the discussions.
According to a Dec. 18 Vatican communique, the meeting will focus on three main areas: responsibility, accountability, and transparency as a means to respond to the “grave challenge” of sexual abuse as a unified global entity.