ROME – In a bold new statement, the Vatican’s Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, an advisory body created by Pope Francis in 2014, has condemned what they described as a failure on the part of Church authorities in abuse prevention, saying they will push leaders to do more.
“Every day seems to bring forth new evidence of abuse, as well as cover up and mishandling by Church leadership around the world,” a Sept. 27 statement from the commission said, issued ahead of a Sept. 30 consistory for the creation of new cardinals and a Synod of Bishops beginning Oct. 4.
Some abuse cases are covered in the media and some are not, meaning many victims suffer in silence, the commission said, saying all abuse “involves the anguish and pain of a terrible betrayal, not only by the abuser, but by a Church unable or even unwilling to reckon with the reality of its actions.”
“We hear and are disturbed by reports of the actions of individuals holding responsible offices within the Church, the cries of those impacted, as well as the legacy of atrocious behavior associated with lay and other movements and so many areas of the Church’s institutional life,” they said.
The commission said that some recent cases “point to tragically harmful deficiencies in the norms intended to punish abusers and hold accountable those whose duty is to address wrongdoing.”
“We are long overdue in fixing the flaws in procedures that leave victims wounded and in the dark both during and after cases have been decided,” they said, saying they will continue to study what is not working and will push for needed changes so that all those affected by abuse “get access to truth, justice, and reparation.”
They also pledged to use their role to press those in positions of authority “to address these crimes to fulfil their mission effectively, to minimize the risk of further transgressions, and secure a respectful environment for all.”
The statement from the PCPM comes on the heels of several puzzling developments in the case of prominent Slovenian Catholic artist and former Jesuit, Father Marko Ivan Rupnik.
Rupnik’s case made headlines last December when Italian blogs and websites reported that for years, consecrated women had accused him of spiritual and psychological abuse and sexual misconduct. The women belonged to the “Skupnosti Loyola” or Loyola Community, a religious order in Rupnik’s native Slovenia, with allegations dating back to the 1990s, when Rupnik served there as a spiritual advisor.
After initial reports on the Rupnik allegations began to circulate last year, the Jesuit Order admitted that Rupnik had been briefly excommunicated in 2020 for using the confessional to absolve a woman with whom he’d had sexual relations, considered to be one of the church’s most serious crimes.
Rupnik reportedly repented and the excommunication was lifted within 15 days. However, a year later, he was accused by nine women of sexually, psychologically, and spiritually abusing them at the Loyola Community, which he co-founded, in the 1990s.
At the time, the Jesuits recommended a canonical trial be opened, however the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, at the time led by Spanish Jesuit Cardinal Luis Ladaria, denied the request, refusing to lift the statute of limitations, which has been done in other cases, thus declaring the offenses unable to be prosecuted.
After the Jesuits launched an internal investigation, Rupnik, accused of sexually manipulating at least 20 adult women, was expelled from the Society of Jesus in July on grounds of disobedience, as he refused to comply with an order to transfer community houses and did not cooperate with the Jesuits’ inquiry.
Earlier this year, the Diocese of Rome launched an apostolic visitation of the Centro Aletti founded by Rupnik, which for years served as his residence and main base of operations, to gather facts and determine the internal environment of the community.
On Sept. 18, despite the Jesuits’ expulsion of Rupnik on grounds of disobedience, the Vicariate of Rome gave him and the Centro Aletti he founded a clean bill of health.
Calling the Centro Aletti, “a healthy community life free of particular critical issues,” the vicariate said its review of the center had identified “gravely anomalous procedures” behind the May 2020 decree of excommunication against Rupnik from the Vatican’s doctrinal office, raising what it said were “well-founded doubts” about the decision.
After the vicariate issued its statement, Rupnik’s alleged victims published an open letter saying the statement was proof that pledges of “zero tolerance” for sexual abuse by Church officials are merely a “PR campaign…followed only by frequently covert actions, which support and cover up for the authors of abuse.”
Rupnik’s case has captivated the Catholic world due to his prominent standing as one of the most acclaimed contemporary Catholic artists, the fact that he belongs to the same order as Pope Francis, as well as the apparent disagreements between Church authorities on his case, and the questions that still remain.
In their statement, commission members said that since the body’s establishment, they have overseen a slew of initiatives highlighting the reality of sexual abuse and the need for “robust reforms” in facing both abuse “and its mishandling by Church leaders.”
Despite efforts to align more closely with the work of the doctrinal office, having been placed within the department as part of Pope Francis’s curial reforms, the commission’s statement said that “deep frustrations remain,” even after a major 2019 Vatican summit on child protection, attended by the heads of all bishops’ conferences around the world, as well as a slew of experts and abuse survivors.
These frustrations are especially present among those still seeking justice, they said, insisting that “No one should have to beg for justice in the Church.”
“The unacceptable resistance that remains points to a scandalous lack of resolve by many in the Church that is often compounded by a serious lack of resources,” the commission said, adding, “There can be little effective change in this area without the pastoral conversion of Church leaders.”
Pointing to this weekend’s consistory, in which the pope will create 21 new cardinals, they issued a reminder to all cardinals “that the blood they are called to pour out is their own and not that of those under their care.”
“As a model of courageous self-sacrifice, the creation of new cardinals is an opportune moment for reflection, repentance, and renewal of our unwavering commitment to safeguard and advocate for the most vulnerable, using all means possible,” the commission said.
They urged the College of Cardinals to make abuse victims and their families part of their “oath of fidelity” and their commitment to pursuing both justice and truth.
“All bishops and religious superiors should echo this commitment,” they said, adding the Oct. 4-29 Synod of Bishops on Synodality also represents an opportune time to discuss the reality of sexual abuse within the church and to push for change.
Addressing synod participants, the commission asked that the topic of abuse “permeate your discussions,” especially in regard to teaching, various forms of ministry, formation, and governance.
“While at times it may seem like a daunting set of questions to face, please rise to the challenge so that you may address, in a comprehensive way, the threat posed by sexual abuse to Church’s credibility in announcing the Gospel,” the commission said.
Asking that “meaningful time” be dedicated to addressing abuse, and to include space for survivors to share their stories, the commission urged Church leaders to strive for a day when all ministries of the church “become places of welcome, empathy and reconciliation for those impacted by abuse.”
“Join with those who rail against the endemic complacency of those in the Church and society that silence these testimonies, minimize their significance, and stifle hope for renewal,” they said.
They urged synod participants to work for a day when the Church “takes full account and full responsibility for the wrongs done to so many in its care,” and voiced hope that a day would arrive when children are protected by “appropriate safety policies and procedures, ones that are known and verified.”
More transparency is needed, and reporting mechanisms must be accessible and function according to “acceptable standards,” they said.
The day that safeguarding and responsibility for child protection in dioceses, schools, hospitals, retreat and formation houses, and other institutions is taken seriously “has yet to arrive. And for many it seems a long way away,” the commission said.
“We urge you to work towards these long-overdue goals not just for one or two days during your gathering, but to consider them throughout the entire Synod process,” they said, saying, “Their achievement will be a singular sign of the Synod’s success, a sign that we are walking with the wounded and the forgotten as disciples of the one Lord, in search of a better way.”
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