ROME — In a letter sent to an Italian safeguarding conference, Pope Francis on Thursday referred to sexual abuse as “a culture of death” that can only be eradicated by systemic action by an alliance of parties.
No action will ever be too small when it comes to creating a culture capable of preventing abuse, its cover-up and perpetuation, Francis wrote, and the Church today is undergoing a process of conversion that begins “from below, as an expression of the active participation of the People of God in the journey of personal and community conversion.”
This conversion, he wrote, is one that the Church is called to undertake urged on “by the pain and shame of not having always been good guardians, protecting the minors entrusted to us.”
“This process of conversion urgently requires a renewed formation of all those who have educational responsibilities and work in environments with minors, in the Church, in society, in the family,” the pope said. “Only in this way, with a systematic action of a preventive alliance, will it be possible to eradicate the culture of death that is the bearer of every form of abuse, whether sexual, of conscience, or of power.”
Francis words came in the form of a written message to a conference taking place in Rome this Thursday under the header of “Promoting child safeguarding at the time of COVID-19 and beyond.” It’s organized by the Pope John XXIII Community Italian Catholic Action, and the Italian Sports Center, in collaboration with the Center for Victimology and Security at the University of Bologna.
The seminar took place both in person and online, and it was co-financed by the European Union. It was aimed at Italian religious organizations to help them integrate a policy of protection of minors as the first tool of prevention against all forms of abuse, and offering training for recognizing, reporting, and preventing abuse. Included among the speakers was Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, head of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.
The pope also wrote that if abuse is a betrayal of trust “which condemns to death those who suffer it and generates deeps cracks in the context in which it occurs, prevention must be a permanent path.”
For the adults, Francis wrote, this means fostering the expression of the talents of children, respecting their freedom and dignity while “opposing with every means the temptations of seduction and inducement, which only in appearance can facilitate relations with the younger generations.”
Finally, the pontiff said the number of young people who had taken part in the seminar but also those who have received formation as part of the collaboration between the different organizations in the “Safe” project was a reason for hope. It’s them, he said, who are asking the Church to take a decisive step of renewal in the face of the “wounds of abuse found in their peers.”
He urged the youth to continue to “courageously” call out situations of abuse; the adults to continue working on their credibility through responsibly being consistent in their witness; and the lay associations to persevere in formation of “co-responsibility, dialogue and transparency.”
“May the protection of minors be more and more concretely an ordinary priority in the educational activity of the Church; may it be the promotion of an open, reliable and authoritative service, in firm contrast to every form of domination, disfigurement of intimacy and complicit silence,” Francis wrote.
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