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VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has met with two Italian victims of clerical abuse, one of them a child when the abuse took place, and the other an adult, according to Fr. Hans Zollner, a German psychologist, Jesuit and a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors that met last week in the Vatican.
According to Zollner, the pope has also supported the idea of instituting a prayer day for pedophilia victims, proposed a model for helping national Bishops’ Conferences to further improve anti-abuse guidelines, and said he was satisfied with the recent papal document on the responsibility of bishops and other Church superiors in this field. The Pontifical Commission will also soon be launching its own website.
“Two Italian victims of abuse attended a meeting with the Holy Father as part of last Saturday’s Jubilee Audience,” Fr. Zollner told Vatican Radio. During the course of the meeting two books were given to him, both published this year in Italian: “Giulia e il lupo” (Julia and the wolf) by Luisa Bove, with a preface by Hans Zollner (Ancora publishing house) and “Vorrei risorgere dalle mie ferite” (I want to rise from my wounds) by Anna Deodato (EDB).
Last April, these two books were presented to the San Fedele cultural foundation in Milan. The first book, Zollner explained, “is about the experience of a young woman who was abused by a priest in Italy. This is the first book published in Italian, in Italy, about an experience in Italy. The other book is about consecrated women who are abused by priests. From what these two ladies told me, the pope was shocked and asked to be updated on this too. So I think that from what we have seen and heard in recent years, under Francis’ pontificate as well as Pope Benedict’s, the popes have shown deep personal concern, empathy and closeness to people in great difficulty as well as to those who have suffered sexual abuse by a member of the clergy.”
The commission — founded by Pope Francis and headed by Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston and a member of the C9, the nine-member council of cardinals assisting the pope with the reform of the Roman Curia, which is meeting today through to Wednesday – met in Rome from September 5-11 for group meetings culminating in a plenary assembly.
“A survivor of clerical child sexual abuse made the proposal of a Day of Prayer to the Commission,” an official Commission statement read. “The Commission believes that prayer is one part of the healing process for survivors and the community of believers. Public prayer is also an important way of consciousness raising in the Church.”
“The Holy Father has requested that National Bishops Conferences choose an appropriate day on which to pray for the survivors and victims of sexual abuse as part of a Universal Day of Prayer initiative. The Commission was happy to learn that many Bishops Conferences have already taken steps to enact the proposal.”
According to the Commission’s statement, the Australian Church “marked the Day of Prayer on Sunday September 11, in conjunction with their National Day for Child Protection.”
“The Bishops of the Philippines have already begun to discuss how best to implement the Day of Prayer and will soon announce a date,” while “the Southern African Bishops Conferences [SACBC] have embraced the proposal dedicating three days to the initiative from Friday December 2 to Sunday December 4, the second Sunday of Advent. Friday will be observed as a day of fasting, there will be a penitential vigil on Saturday and on Sunday a statement prepared by the SACBC, will be read out in all parishes. The PCPM has prepared resources and materials for the Universal Day of Prayer and we are happy to make them available on request.”
“The Working Group meetings focused on the updates for current projects, and developing draft proposals for the Holy Father, Pope Francis. For example,” the statement says, “the Commission has developed a template for guidelines in the safeguarding and protection of children, adolescents and vulnerable adults, which we will shortly present to the Holy Father for his consideration.”
“We discussed guidelines and a model, a format, which we want to present to the Holy Father and which could inspire Bishops’ Conferences to improve further or to work on certain aspects of their guidelines which have not been sufficiently developed yet.”
Another fundamental aspect that emerged during the meeting of the body headed by Cardinal O’Malley is education. The Commission’s statement highlights “progress of on-going education programs, both at a local level and in the Vatican”. The Commission’s members were invited either individually or not, to speak at 70 to 80 conferences or workshops across five continents (the statement mentions meetings that have already take place in Australia, South Africa, the Philippines, Colombia, the US, the Fiji islands, New Zealand, Ghana, Tanzania, Argentina, Santo Domingo, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Italy.
“We have seen,” Zollner said, “that in many parts of the world where the issue of abuse and its prevention were not really discussed, many people inside and outside the Church are now acting. Sometimes, the Church in these areas really is the most active and important body locally because of the Catholic school system and the education system offered and the work done with families and young people. So were very happy to share the many activities that took place and point – in my opinion – toward an increased global awareness.”
“In the context of the Vatican,” the statement underlines, “Commission members were invited to address meetings of the Pontifical Ecclesiastic Academy and the Congregation for Consecrated Life”.
“In the coming week members have also been invited to address the training for new bishops held by the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, a meeting of the Congregation for the Clergy and the training for new Bishops held by the Congregation for bishops.” At a similar meeting last year, Mgr. Tony Anatrella, a psychiatrist, suggested it was best not to report abuse, attracting intense criticism from the Commission for the Protection of Minors. “We now have the opportunity,” Fr. Zollner told Vatican Radio, “to talk to the new pastors of local Churches — Cardinal O’Malley, the abuse victim, Mary Collins and myself — sending out a message to them which we believe is consistent. We are delighted to have been invited for the first time.”
The Commission also references Pope Francis’ Motu Proprio “As a Loving Mother”: “In February 2015, the Commission made a proposal to the Holy Father regarding bishop accountability” in the case of cover-ups or negligence towards reported incidents. In “As a Loving Mother”, Pope Francis goes beyond the accountability of bishops broadening it to other Church leaders. The Commission has welcomed this.”
Finally, the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors announced that it will soon have its very own website: “It is our hope that it will be a useful resource for the Church and all people of good will in our common goal, which is to make our Church and our society a safe home for all.”