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Church should empower victims to disclose abuse

The Catholic Church needs to empower victims of clerical abuse to disclose their predicament, says Archbishop Charles J. Scicluna.

It’s been more than a year since Pope Francis published “Vos Est Lux Mundi (You are the light of the world)” – a document that ushered in a new wave of transparency and accountability for abuse cases in the Catholic Church.

This enforced the clergy’s obligation to report cases of sexual abuse to church authorities. It also applied norms for bishop accountability and strengthened channels for listening to victim reports.

Scicluna, who is the adjunct secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, says to empower victims the Church needs to provide them with ways to communicate safely.

But to really help victims come forward, there must also be a spiritual accompaniment, he says. Many victims live with a “sense of guilt” due to the abuse and trying to free them of it “is also very important.”

“We talk about communicating with victims, but we really need to listen to them.”

Scicluna’s comments are based on years of work as the Promoter of Justice at the Vatican, where he improved minor protection and accountability norms. Among the cases he investigated was that of Marcial Maciel, a pedophile who founded the Legionaries of Christ.

In 2018, Francis sent him to investigate sexual abuse allegations against Bishop Juan de la Cruz Barros in Chile. This year he is looking into the clerical abuse crisis in Mexico.

Scicluna stresses not only the importance of “getting the facts right, but also of letting the victim provide the narrative that is valid and effective in an investigation,” when investigating abuse cases.

The main themes when it comes to communicating with victims of sexual abuse are “dignity and respect,” he says.

The Catholic community must truly engage “with these persons who have been hurt by ministers of the church.”

The church is called not only to listen to abuse victims and survivors. It must also “listen to them existentially, using brain matter but also emotional intelligence,” Scicluna says.

For this to happen, there must be a “constant dialogue with victims,” and the Church must take on the responsibility of facilitating the “quest for justice.”

This is particularly important in canonical cases where clergy accused of sexual abuse are tried by a Church tribunal.

Formerly, canonical procedures and the “pontifical secret,” contributed to alienating victims from the Vatican judicial system. Secrecy is no longer an option for the accused, however.

Francis released an edict last December, removing pontifical secrecy for cases of sexual abuse and cover-up, so lawful authorities could access reports, testimonies and documents. The edict is considered the beginning of a new era for the Church regarding cases of clergy abuse.


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