The news segment this week of Vatican Insider will be unusually brief because the special I have prepared in what is normally the interview segment is unusually long. I am taking a look at the four-day meeting in the Vatican that began on Thursday February 21 and is dealing with the scandal of clerical sex abuse, in particular focussing on the protection of minors. I look at the background, the composition of the organizing committee, the speakers and topics scheduled for each day, the Holy Father’s reason for choosing to have such an event and a look at what the Church, the Pope, and the summit attendees hope to achieve.

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Accountability was the main theme of the second day of the protecting minors conference. Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay (Mumbai) was the first to speak in the morning. His talk was entitled “Accountability in a Collegial and Synodal Church.”

He began by saying, “Sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and the subsequent failure to address it in an open, accountable, and effective way has caused a multifaceted crisis that has gripped and wounded the Church, not to speak of those who have been abused. Although the experience of abuse seems dramatically present in certain parts of the world, it is not a limited phenomenon. Indeed, the entire Church must take an honest look, undertake rigorous discernment, and then act decisively to prevent abuse from occurring in the future and to do whatever possible to foster healing for victims.
Finally, he said, we must “be willing to pay the price of following God’s will in uncertain and painful circumstances.”

The cardinal went on: “No bishop should say to himself, “I face these problems and challenges alone.” Because we belong to the college of bishops in union with the Holy Father, we all share accountability and responsibility. Collegiality is an essential context for addressing wounds of abuse inflicted on victims and on the Church at large. We bishops need to return to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council often, in order to find ourselves in the larger mission and ministry of the Church.”

He asked for the clarification of several points in order to make progress:

· For me, this raises the question: do we really engage in an open conversation and point out honestly to our brother bishops or priests when we notice problematic behaviour in them? We should cultivate a culture of correctio fraterna, which enables this without offending each other, and at the same time recognise criticism from a brother as an opportunity to better fulfil our tasks.
· Closely related to this point is willingness to personally admit mistakes to each other, and to ask for help, without feeling the need to maintain the pretence of own perfection
· For a bishop, the relationship with the Holy Father is of constitutive significance. Every bishop is obliged to directly obey and follow the Holy Father. We should ask ourselves honestly, whether on this basis we don’t sometimes think that our relationship with the other bishops is not so important, especially if the brothers have a different opinion, and/or if they feel the need to correct us.
· If in such contexts we ourselves always refer back to Rome, we shouldn’t wonder if a certain Roman centralism does not sufficiently take into account the diversity in our brotherhood, and our local church competencies and our skills as responsible shepherds of our local churches are not appropriately used, and thereby the practically lived collegiality suffers.

Under what he called “The Challenge of sexual abuse in the Church,“ Cardinal Gracias spoke of justice and healing and said, relative to healing: “For effective healing to happen, there must be clear, transparent, and consistent communication from a collegial Church to victims, members of the Church, and society at large. In that communication, the Church offers several messages.”

Those messages are, he explained, “a respectful outreach and an honest acknowledgement of their pain and hurt,” “an offer to heal,” “to identify and implement measures to protect young and vulnerable people from future abuse,” and fourthly, “to society at large.”

On the fourth point he said: “Our Holy Father has wisely and correctly said that abuse is a human problem. It is not, of course, limited to the Church. In fact, it is a pervasive and sad reality across all sectors of life. Out of this particularly challenging moment in the life of the Church, we – again in a collegial context -can draw on and develop resources which can be of great service to a larger world. The grace of this moment can actually be our ability to serve a great need in the world from our experience in the Church.”

For Cardinal Gracias’ full address


Cardinal Blase Cupich, archbishop of Chicago, was the second speaker of the second day of the protection of minors meeting.

He opened his talk by saying, “From what we just heard from Cardinal Gracias, we are to understand our gathering in these days as an exercise in collegiality. We are here, as the universal episcopate in affective and substantive union with the successor of Peter, to discern through spirited dialogue where our ministry as successors of the apostles calls us to confront effectively the scandal of clergy sexual abuse that has wounded so many little ones.

“While we share a unique responsibility in this regard as the college of bishops, it is also imperative that we consider the challenge we face in the light of synodality, especially as we explore with the entire Church the structural, legal and institutional aspects of accountability.”

The cardinal explained that, “For a Church seeking to be a loving mother in the face of clergy sexual abuse, four orientations, rooted in synodality, must shape every structural, legal and institutional reform designed to meet the enormous challenge which the reality of sexual abuse by clergy represents at this moment.”

Those orientations are: radical listening, lay witness, collegiality and accountability.

Cardinal Cupich then outlined what he called a framework for institutional and legal structured for accountability, stating, “The task before us is to focus these principles upon the design of specific institutional and legal structures for the purpose of creating genuine accountability in cases related to the misconduct of bishops and religious superiors, and their mishandling of cases of child abuse.”

The archbishop of Chicago mentioned, “We already, of course, have a guide in the Apostolic Letter Come una madre amorevole, which sets forth procedures that address, among other things, bishops who mishandle abuse cases.”

Looking at the task ahead for the Church and the world’s bishops, the cardinal grouped his remarks under three headings: 1. Setting Standards for Investigation of Bishops, 2. Reporting Allegations and 3. Concrete Procedural Steps.

At this point he made references to mechanisms already in place for reporting allegations of abuse or mishandling of abuse against a bishop, explaining the path normally taken for such reports.

Cardinal Cupich then listed 12 principles that he said should find their way into any proposed legislation in this area.

In conclusion, he said: “We must move to establish robust laws and structures regarding the accountability of bishops precisely to supply with a new soul the institutional reality of the Church’s discipline on sexual abuse.”

For Cardinal Cupich’s full presentation


The first woman to give an address to the Meeting for the Protection of Minors, Dr. Linda Ghisoni talked about the importance of all aspects of the Church working together to confront the worldwide crisis of the sexual abuse of children. She is the Undersecretary for the Laity at the Dicastery for the Laity, Family, and Life.

Speaking on the subject of accountability – the theme for the second day of the meeting for the protection of minors – Ghisoni highlighted the aspect of communion vis-a-vis accountability.

With respect to Religious Superiors and Bishops, she said it was important, “to foresee an ordinary procedure of verification that should not be misunderstood as a lack of trust towards the Superior or the Bishop. Rather to be considered as an aid that allows him to focus, first at himself and at the best moment, that is when all the elements are clear and concurrent, the reason for a certain action taken or omitted.

“To say that the Bishop must always give a report of his work to someone does not mean subjecting him to a control or putting him in a priori distrust, but engaging him in the dynamics of ecclesial communion where all the members act in a coordinated way, according to their own charisms and ministries.

“If a priest gives report to the community, to the priests and to his Bishop for his work, to whom does a bishop give a report? What accountability is he subject to?

“Identifying an objective method of accountability not only does not weaken his authority, but values him as shepherd of a flock, in his own function that is not separated from the people for whom he is called to give life. It may also happen, as for each of us, that from “giving report” springs awareness of an error, it becomes obvious that the path taken was wrong, perhaps because at that moment one thought – wrongly – of acting for the good. This will not constitute a judgment from which to defend oneself in order to recover credit, a stain on one’s own honourability, a threat to one’s own ordinary and immediate power.

“On the contrary, this will be the witness of a journey made together, which alone can find the discernment of truth, justice and charity. The logic of communion does not stand an accusation and a defence, but working together (“con-correre” precisely, only in communion) for the good of all. Accountability is therefore a form, today even more necessary, in this logic of communion.”