Preparing the Meeting of Bishops on the Protection of Minors

Federico Lombardi, SJ

 Federico Lombardi, SJ / Church Life / Published Date:19 December 2018/Last Updated Date:28 July 2020

Free Article

The meeting and the start of its preparations

Faced with widespread and growing discomfort following new reports and revelations of very serious cases of sexual abuse involving members of the clergy, on September 12, 2018, at the end of one of the meetings of the Council of Cardinals – at the time the so-called C9 – it was announced that the Holy Father had decided to call a meeting in the Vatican for February 21-24, 2019. The meeting would be a broad approach to the theme “The Protection of Minors in the Church.” On November 23, 2018, the meeting was effectively convoked, and the Press Office of the Holy See gave the first details about the committee appointed by the pope to organize it, and about the people invited to participate.

The committee is composed of four people: Cardinal Blase J. Cupich, Archbishop of Chicago; Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay and Member of the Council of Cardinals; Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta and Adjunct Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; and Fr. Hans Zollner, SJ, founder and president of the Centre for Child Protection at the Pontifical Gregorian University and member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. Fr. Zollner was indicated as the “reference person” for the committee. The press release adds that the preparation will involve two women who have important tasks within the Roman Curia: Dr. Gabriella Gambino and Dr. Linda Ghisoni, both undersecretaries of the Vatican Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life, each being responsible respectively for the section for Life and for the section for the Laity. Naturally, the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors will be involved, as will some victims of abuse by the clergy.

La Civilta Cattolica

As for the participants, on the list are the heads of the Oriental Churches, some prefects of the Roman Curia (Doctrine of the Faith; Oriental Churches; Bishops; Evangelization of Peoples; Clergy; Consecrated Life; Catholic Education; and Laity, Family and Life), the presidents of the episcopal conferences, and representatives of the Unions of Superiors General (male and female). So there will be around 200 participants. The pope has announced his intention to attend the meeting.

This is certainly a first meeting of its kind, yet it is also clearly part of the process of synodality that Pope Francis is keen to have at the heart of his plan to reform the Church. Faced with a problem that shows itself more and more present and serious in different geographical areas of the world and of the Catholic Church, the pope has ordered the highest representatives of the different ecclesial communities to give a united response at the universal level. The entire Church must choose to live in solidarity, above all with the victims, with their families and with the ecclesial communities wounded by the scandals. As the pope has written, “If one member suffers, all the members suffer together” (1 Cor 12:26), and the commitment to protect minors has to be taken on clearly and effectively by the entire community, starting with those in the highest positions of responsibility.

The participants invited to the meeting are called in their responsibility for the pilgrim people of God as a whole, and not just as representatives or as those in charge of clergy or religious men and women. So they are well aware that they need the assistance and collaboration of experts – laymen and laywomen – to bring the essential contribution of the different communities that they represent into the dynamics of the encounter.

Three days is a very short period of time. Yet it would have been difficult to call together so many people from every part of the world at such short notice for a longer period of time. This lets us see the sense of urgency and the serious nature of the issue as well as the intensity of the necessary preparations. The organizers foresee a consultation – as is typical of the “synodal” method – with a questionnaire for participants and the collection of information and documentation to establish a common starting point, as well as materials and proposals to share and make available for further study and any future necessary initiatives. Obviously, the personal preparation of the participants will determine the effectiveness of the meeting: they will need not only to study the general documentation and specific situations of their countries, but also become involved in the seriousness and depth of the problem, including an awareness of the lived experience of victims of sexual abuse and those who are directly in contact with them.

As the meeting develops, the following elements will come together: penitential prayer, to establish in sincere conversion, as an unavoidable reference point, true awareness of the suffering and damage suffered by the victims; reflection on the real situation, seen directly and unambiguously and with sufficient information about what has been done and what has not yet been done to face up to it; exchange in working groups and in moments of shared reflection on the actual tasks that need to be adopted and on the ways to verify they have been put into place and are efficacious; the sharing of best practices already put into action for the reform of relations within the Church and for the spread of a true culture of protection of minors in the Church and in society.

The issue emerges: the case of the United States

To contribute to the preparation and bring into clearer focus the motives and aims of the meeting, as also the expectations that can be reasonably nurtured, it is worth quickly looking back at the recent history of the issue of sexual abuse in the Church, the different phases it has been through, and the ways the recent popes have responded.[1]

The first widely reported crisis occurred in the United States in 2002. The spread of the phenomenon of sexual abuse by the clergy in the previous decades and the absolutely insufficient line taken to manage it by ecclesial authorities came to light dramatically and sensationally following a famous investigation by The Boston Globe, which was the basis for the major film Spotlight (2015). In this emergency, Pope John Paul II called the American cardinals to Rome in April 2002. In December that year, he accepted the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law from the governance of the Archdiocese of Boston.

The big lessons of that crisis were clear, but they were only understood and accepted with difficulty. The phenomenon of clergy abuse was serious and long lasting; thus the selection and formation of candidates to priesthood and the ongoing formation of the clergy needed careful and rigorous renewal. The way the ecclesial authorities generally faced this phenomenon was indefensible: neglecting the depth of suffering of the victims and placing first the defense of the institution, hiding the truth to avoid the scandals, and living under the illusion of being able to resolve the problem by moving those guilty to a new place. The role the media played, however aggressive it often was, forced the Church to respond to the previously largely hidden and undervalued demands of transparency. The gravity of the crimes and the need to reestablish justice for the victims required a new configuration of the relationship and collaboration with civil authorities.

Consequently, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) decisively took a wide range of measures. In particular, in the fields of discipline of the clergy, of training ecclesiastical personnel, and in areas under the control of the Church, these measures would prove efficacious in reducing the scale of the phenomenon of abuse and to combat it. They are a valuable set of experiences and valid lessons for other countries.

Nevertheless, the victims continued to come forward and the clamorous cases taken to court kept multiplying, as did the inquiries and studies of the past, both concerning abuse itself and the management of the issue. This continued to disturb the life of the Church in the United States during the entire pontificate of Benedict XVI and continues today, with grave consequences for the image and the credibility of the Church and for the economic situation of various dioceses and religious provinces and their activities. This shows, among other things, that any in-depth renewal must take into consideration the past – John Paul II spoke about the “purification of memory” – which is a high price to pay but it cannot be avoided.

Searing echoes came, as is known, in June 2018 with the case of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. The former Archbishop of Washington was accused of sexually abusing a minor, an allegation that was found “credible and substantiated” by the review board of the Archdiocese of New York, and of molesting seminarians, and the pope removed him from the College of Cardinals. Then came the publication on August 14, 2018, of the Report of the Grand Jury of Pennsylvania on the question of abuse in the Catholic Church during the last 70 years in six dioceses, which lists 300 priest-perpetrators and more than 1,000 victims. The recent assembly of the USCCB, in mid-November, took place in a climate of tension and under great pressure by public opinion. The Holy See asked it not to take any decisions on the matter before the February meeting, to guarantee the coherence of the orientations of the different episcopacies.

The renewal of canonical norms, the Maciel case and the Irish case

Meanwhile, thanks to the commitment of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, later elected Pope Benedict XVI, to act on the cases of abuse of minors by members of the clergy, the Holy See faced the problem from the point of view of canonical norms. These were updated and renewed in terms of the measures to take, the procedures to follow and who was in charge (the competency came under the responsibility of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) so as to avoid the cases being dispersed among different dicasteries hindering their coherence and efficacy of application.[2]

A very important reference document here was the Motu Proprio Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela (SST) of 2001, which inserted the crime of sexual abuse of minors by a cleric among the “most grave delicts.” Handling these cases comes under the responsibility of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Then, in light of experience, Benedict XVI brought further changes, both in substance and in procedure, which have been confirmed and systematized with a series of new “Norms on the Most Grave Delicts,” which were sent to the bishops by the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith by a letter of May 21, 2010 (among the developments, suffice it to note the insertion of child pornography among the “most grave delicts”). These “new norms” are a document of paramount importance.

During the pontificate of Benedict XVI, the crisis of the coming to light of the problem of sexual abuse by members of the clergy spread into new areas of the life of the Church. A first clamorous and very serious case emerged and Benedict XVI rose to the challenge. It was that of the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, Marcial Maciel, a Mexican, who in 2006 was recognized as guilty after an investigation carried out at the initiative of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith by then-Monsignor Charles Scicluna, the Promotor of Justice. Then, in 2009, by disposition of the pope, came a systematic apostolic visitation of the entire religious congregation founded by Maciel. Guided by a pontifical commissar, Cardinal Velasio De Paolis, it led to a profound revision of the constitutions of the Legionaries of Christ.

This episode of exceptional gravity contributed to bringing to light a problem present in other religious and community realities, where a leader’s strong charismatic personality ends up leading to forms of exercise of authority that involve various dimensions of abuse: abuse of power, abuse of manipulation and violation of liberty of conscience, and also sexual abuse. In this thread, we also see the case for example the “Sodality of Christian Life,” founded by Luis Fernando Figari in Peru, which exploded in 2011, and the Priestly Union that arose around Fernando Karadima. This had most serious consequences for the entire Church in Chile, and we will come back to it later.

During the pontificate of Benedict XVI the crisis struck the Church successively in different countries, including Germany and Ireland.

In Germany, where Guidelines had already been in place on the matter since 2002, the issue rose clamorously to the fore with the case of Canisius College, run by the Jesuits. In 2010 the rector himself invited former students and families to denounce any cases of abuse that had ever happened. The episcopal conference reacted quickly renewing the Guidelines and collaborating actively with the authorities in the country to face the issue of abuse of minors, which was seen to have spread not only in the Catholic Church, but also in many other spheres of society.

In traditionally Catholic Ireland, two deeply disturbing reports were published in 2009. They came out of the inquiries by commissions nominated by civil authorities: the Ryan Report about abuse – not just sexual abuse – in schools, which were mostly managed by Catholic institutions; and the Murphy Report, which looked at abuse over 30 years by members of the clergy of the archdiocese of Dublin. The pope convoked the Irish bishops to Rome, published a wide-ranging Pastoral Letter addressed to all the Catholics of the country (March 19, 2010) – this was his broadest and most complete pastoral document on the issue – and set up an apostolic visitation of the dioceses and seminaries of all Ireland, which lasted from November 2010 to March 2012 and would give important indications for renewal.

The personal commitment of Benedict XVI in this dramatic issue is seen by his repeated encounters with victims during apostolic journeys to various countries (the United States, Great Britain, Malta, Australia, Germany).

The Circular Letter on the ‘Guidelines’

In May 2011 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith sent an important circular letter to all the episcopal conferences with the aim of “assisting conferences in developing Guidelines for dealing with cases of sexual abuses of minors perpetrated by clerics” in light of the “new norms” established by the pope in 2010. Each conference was asked to prepare Guidelines or to revise those already existing; indications were given for preparing these documents to ensure all the essential points were covered; the request was made that these texts reach the Congregation within one year to allow for any observations to be made. The aim of the Guidelines should have been naturally above all that of protecting minors, but also ensuring a shared direction in this area by the bishops of each individual conference.

To help the episcopal conferences and the religious congregations understand the different aspects of the issue and face them in their own countries by developing Guidelines and other adequate instruments, in February 2012 an international symposium was organized. It took place at the Pontifical Gregorian University, was encouraged by the Holy See – in particular the Congregations for the Doctrine of the Faith and for Bishops – and had as its title “Toward Healing and Renewal.” Many experts and above all the representatives of 110 episcopal conferences and superiors general of 35 religious institutes took part. The symposium was coordinated by Fr. Hans Zollner.[3]

At the same time, the Centre for Child Protection (CCP) was founded by the Institute for Psychology at the Gregorian. Its specific aim was the formation of personnel specialized in the prevention of sexual abuse for the protection of minors. For several years now the center has organized courses that lead to a diploma, and more recently a Licentiate in Safeguarding. The center has also developed a long-distance e-learning program, especially for the regions of the Church – for example, in Africa, Asia and Latin America – that have fewer resources or personnel able to be formed in this sphere, collaborating with local institutions to perfect programs suitable for the very different cultural needs.

As far as the preparation of Guidelines is concerned, many episcopal conferences did not respect the deadline; however, over time, almost all have prepared them and sent them to the Congregation and received observations. These texts are all different in configuration and breadth of interest. We have to note that the Congregation strictly requested just the “treatment of cases of sexual abuse of minors by clerics,” that is, essentially, how to act in cases where crimes have taken place, how to react to an emergency, and how to dedicate greater attention to the selection and formation of the clergy. However, experience and reflection have led many conferences to widen the vision and formulate or reformulate Guidelines that are broader and encompass more things, making clear the dynamics of abuse and its nature of corrupting relations of authority and power in the community, the personality traits of abusers, the signs of risk, and so on. In this way, as well as indicating how to proceed when faced with cases of abuse that have taken place, they establish the bases for a veritable action of prevention. This is done through the formation and collaboration of different components of the community and the radical overcoming of a stance of closure, hiding and self-defense by the ecclesial institution. The Guidelines then have become the document needed for the conversion and renewal of the ecclesial community starting with the dramatic experience of abuse.[4]

The pontificate of Pope Francis

Pope Francis continued decisively on the path set out by his predecessor. He became involved personally, meeting victims of sexual abuse by members of the clergy, starting with a long and moving meeting with several victims that took place – for the first time – in the Vatican at his own home, at Casa Santa Marta, on July 7, 2014. That meeting was followed by many more during his travels and again at Santa Marta, privately.[5]

An important step taken by Pope Francis was the constitution, announced December 2013, of a new Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, with Cardinal Sean O’Malley as its president. Its aim is not to treat individual cases of abuse, but to study and propose ways and solutions that are appropriate for an efficacious protection of minors at different levels of the life of the Church.[6] The Commission has not had an easy journey, as is seen by the resignations of two of its members who had been chosen to represent the victims of abuse. It has had to clarify its functions in relation to the competencies of the dicasteries of the Roman Curia, and develop its demanding work schedule without having significant resources available. Results, however, have not been lacking. Three examples speak clearly: its “model” has been used for the Guidelines of the episcopal conferences and includes the wider vision we have mentioned above[7]; its contribution to the important courses of formation for newly appointed bishops that take place each year in Rome; and its proposal for a Day of Prayer for victims of abuse.

From the point of view of canonical norms and procedures in this matter, Pope Francis has published two documents. The Motu Proprio As a Loving Mother of June 4, 2016, is a significant step for facing the particularly complex problem – continually raised in public discussion, especially in the United States – of the accountability of ecclesiastical authorities, that is, of the procedures to put into place for bishops accused not of crimes of abuse on minors (these are in fact already the concern of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, following previous mandate of the Holy Father), but of seriously inadequate behavior concerning cases of abuse (for example, hiding it).[8]

Another juridical document by Pope Francis is the Rescript of November 3, 2014, that institutes, within the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a body to examine appeals made by clergy for judgments in matters of “most grave delicts.” This college, which is presided over by Archbishop Scicluna, has been carrying out its functions regularly for some time.

But Francis has perfectly understood that collaboration and co-responsibility of the Church in society on the themes of protecting minors must go well beyond the “internal” questions of its institutions, to stretch beyond confessional barriers to the widest horizons, to promote protection in the world of today with all its problems, among which are those that come from the new digital culture. An example of this commitment was the international congress “Child Dignity in the Digital World,” which took place at the Pontifical Gregorian University (October 4-6, 2017) with the collaboration of the CCP mentioned above, the great international network WePROTECT and “Telefono Azzurro” (the Italian children’s telephone helpline). The congress concluded with the “Declaration of Rome on the Dignity of Minors in the Digital World” and received the strong support from Pope Francis who gave a very important talk to the participants on the theme (October 6, 2017).[9]

The cases of Australia and Chile

During the pontificate of Pope Francis, the biggest crises have struck the Church in Australia and the Church in Chile.

In Australia, in society generally, and particularly in the Catholic Church and her institutions, the question of sexual abuse of minors has been intensively debated for years. But only in May 2018 was an archbishop, Philip Wilson, condemned by a civil tribunal for covering up abuse in the 1970s. Since 2012 a Royal Commission has carried out an in-depth inquiry (at the highest possible level) across the country, with many hearings, for which the highest authorities of the Church were called, including Cardinal George Pell, who returned to Australia from Rome for this reason, as well as to defend himself from other accusations.

The final Report was published in 2017 and was shocking for the gravity and quantity of the cases and situations of abuse encountered, particularly in Catholic communities and institutions. The Report contains a number of recommendations for the Church. Many of these are worthy of consideration but others have been judged unacceptable by the bishops, in particular one that questions the seal of the secret of the sacrament of confession.

Perhaps in no other case has the Catholic Church with its structure and laws been so systematically subjected to the criticism of civil authorities in a democratic country. Not only are the individuals guilty of crimes, but the Church as a whole is called to give an account of itself and its norms; and not only before public opinion, but also before the authorities that represent the state. We need to be aware that the case of Australia most probably will not remain isolated, as many similar situations (like that of the USA) now form an ongoing trend.

However, the situation that has most profoundly and directly involved Pope Francis is the one in Chile. The central figure in the crisis is the priest Fernando Karadima. For decades he was seen as a charismatic and authoritative spiritual leader, and an exceptional formator of priests, some of whom were elevated to the episcopacy. He was accused of abuse. But his victims were not believed for a long time. Finally, in 2011, he was recognized as definitively guilty by the Holy See following a regular canonical process.

Due to the role he and his followers had taken, there are deep-seated divisions in the Church, and the tensions are focused on the figure of the bishop of Osorno, Juan Barros. Even the visit of Pope Francis to Chile at the beginning of 2018 did not overcome the problems. The pope recognized that he had made mistakes and undervalued the problem, and this in itself is unheard of and admirable. He then took on the situation directly with great determination and a series of initiatives: a new investigation entrusted to Archbishop Scicluna, personal meetings with different victims who had made accusations against Karadima, and convoking the entire Chilean episcopacy to Rome for a meeting that would conclude clamorously with all the bishops offering their resignations to the pope. Pope Francis would later accept some of these resignations, where the bishops were most compromised, and would laicize two elderly bishops, Francisco José Cox and Marco Antonio Ordenes, who were guilty of abuse. In the month of September, Fernando Karadima was dismissed from the clerical state by the pope: in his case the connection between the abuse of power, abuse of conscience and sexual abuse was particularly evident, and the consequences were very serious for the Church in the whole country.

This was the context of two most recent pastoral documents by Pope Francis on the theme, which are closely connected and very powerful: the “Letter to the People of God on Pilgrimage in Chile” of May 31, 2018, and the “Letter to the People of God” of August 20, 2018, published just before his journey to Ireland, another country deeply marked by the drama of sexual abuse on minors where the pope would meet several victims and address the theme again during the World Meeting of Families.[10]

By now, Pope Francis no longer speaks simply of “sexual abuse” but of “abuses of sex, power and conscience.” He reads the entire question of sexual abuse in a wider systematic context of relations that exist within the ecclesial community and their corruption, when authority is lived as power and not as service. The ecclesial vision that guides Francis is the one we all recognize by now: the pilgrim people of God guided by the Spirit; a “synodal” journey, where all the faithful are co-responsible and every form of clericalism needs to be fought decisively.

Overcoming the crisis brought to light strikingly by the phenomenon of abuse becomes then a crucial test of the true reform of the Church, which should not be superficial but reach deeply to renew and purify relations and behavior according to the Gospel.

Expectations and outlooks?

The February 2019 meeting does not start from nothing. But it is certainly an unprecedented event that seeks to give a strong impetus for new urgent steps forward. As has been seen, the lessons and experiences acquired so far are many, but there are also many unresolved issues. Let us seek to summarize the main ones.

If in some countries much has been done, drastically reducing the number of cases of abuse and setting out efficacious programs of prevention and formation, we need to recognize that in many other countries, little, if anything, has been done. The causes of this are many, but the need to act decisively in these cases is enormous. The episcopal conferences, the bishops and the religious superiors must feel themselves responsible and know that they must give an account of this responsibility before God, the Church and society.

In many cases the problem has not yet been perceived in its gravity, nor the depth of suffering it causes. There is a need to become aware, not only theoretically but also in terms of experience and emotion, of the human and spiritual damage that is unleashed on the victims. This will stir us to action and to overcome laziness, fear and resistance, which are all dangerous.

Sometimes, there is the illusion that this problem is mainly “Western” or “American” or “Anglophone.” With unbelievable naïveté people think that this is only a marginal problem in their own country. In reality, to the careful eye, its presence cannot be missed; it is sometimes latent but always capable of exploding dramatically in the future. There is a need to look reality in the face. In this, more information will be of great help.

A reflection on the figure of the priest remains crucial, as too the care and choice of vocations and initial and ongoing priestly formation, with a view to service and not to power, so as to foster that renewal of ecclesial relations which has to be at the heart of any reform worthy of the name. The new Ratio Fundamentalis on priestly formation leads in this direction, but it needs to be put into action.[11]

What must be opposed decisively is the tendency to protect yourself and the institution of the Church by fleeing difficult, uncomfortable situations, minimizing or even hiding the truth. All forms of lying are to be completely rejected. We need to learn to communicate clearly and transparently both within and beyond the ecclesial community in order to rebuild trust and credibility.[12]

Relations and collaboration with civil authorities are to be developed and cultivated in the perspective of truth and justice. Naturally, the laws and authority of public institutions vary greatly in different countries, and this must be taken into consideration, for example in drawing up Guidelines. But the Church has to show herself committed to the cause of protection of minors and vulnerable persons in all of society and to do her part with realism and humility.

In some regions of the world or in areas of great poverty, exploitation, migration and so on, the problem is recognized but within a wider framework of violence and exploitation of minors that is so serious and generalized that it does not seem right to treat sexual abuse differently to other aspects: it is the entire condition of minors that needs healing. There is a need, then, to see sexual abuse as an important – not isolated – aspect of the tragic problem of “throwaway culture,” which hurts the small and weak.

There are also regions where the prevailing culture inhibits and makes it very difficult to speak about sexuality and sexual behavior. This is true in many African and Asian countries. But this does not mean that the problem does not exist. The approach, though, must be somewhat different from what we may be used to or that can be useful for other cultures.[13] The factor of cultural differences in the Church and how to address the problems in such a way as to have shared orientations, with approaches adapted to the different situations, is certainly one of the great challenges of the meeting of bishops: listening and reciprocal respect will be of paramount importance. This too is synodality.

The Churches that are poorest in terms of resources and skills need effective help from the stronger ones and from the Holy See. The protection of minors is an important field for cooperation among the Churches, for the exchange of experiences and best practices, and for economic resources to put them in place.

From the point of view of the service of the Holy See to the episcopal conferences, the dioceses, the religious congregations and so on, the encounter will be a privileged occasion to listen to the problems and needs, to reflect on the adequacy of current canonical norms in substance and procedure, to clarify competency and make clear the work of the different dicasteries and ecclesial bodies.

In conclusion, speaking of sexual abuse by members of the clergy is painful and unpleasant. Sometimes, even in Church circles, one hears that it is time to change the subject, that it is not right to give too much weight to this theme, for it is becoming oppressive and overblown. But that would be the wrong road to take. If the problem is not fully confronted in all its aspects, the Church will continue to find itself facing one crisis after another, her credibility and that of all priests will remain seriously wounded, but above all, what will suffer will be the substance of her mission to proclaim the gospel and her educational work for children and young people, which for centuries has been one of the most beautiful and precious aspects of her service for humanity.

[1] A systematic collection of the main interventions by the popes and the documents about this theme are found on (from the homepage follow the indications on the bottom right of the page to “Abuse of Minors: the Church’s Response”). Most of the documents and interventions cited in this article are easily available here. The theme of sexual abuse has been recently addressed in Italian by a special edition of the “Accenti” series under the title Abusi ( while in English a special volume of the “Perspectives” series is due out under the title Safeguarding the Young and Vulnerable (

[2] Cf. J. I. Arrieta, “L’influsso del cardinal Ratzinger nella revisione del sistema penale canonico,” in Civ. Catt. 2010 IV 430-440. For further info on the theme, we recommend two volumes by C. Papale: Formulario commentato del processo penale canonico (2013) and Il processo penale canonico (2007), Rome, Urbaniana University Press.

[3] The Acts were edited by C. Scicluna – H. Zollner – D. Ayotte and published in several languages: in English Toward Healing and Renewal: The 2012 Gregorian Symposium on Sexual Abuse of Minors, Mahwah, Paulist Press International, 2012; in Italian Verso la Guarigione e il Rinnovamento, Rome – Bologna, Pont. Univ. Gregoriana – EDB, 2012. For a synthetic report of the congress cf. H. Zollner, “‘Verso la guarigione e il rinnovamento.’ Un Simposio alla Gregoriana sugli abusi sessuali,” in Civ. Catt. 2012 I 574-584. For further understanding from a psychological and cultural perspective, cf. two articles: G. Cucci – H. Zollner, “Osservazioni psicologiche sul problema della pedofilia,” Civ. Catt. 2010 II 211-222; and “Contrastare la cultura pedofila,” Civ. Catt. 2010 II 317-329.

[4] Examples of Guidelines of this type are those of the Episcopal Conference of Switzerland from 2014 (3rd edition), the Canadian Episcopal Conference, etc. The Italian Episcopal Conference, after a first concise formulation of the Guidelines in 2014, is now making another much more wide-ranging one, moving the attention to the themes of prevention and formation. A document of a different type, which is nevertheless precious, is the booklet prepared and distributed by the French Bishops Conference: Lutter contre la pédophilie. Repères pour éducateurs, Paris, Bayard – Mame – Cerf, 2017 (updated edition). Cf. also H. Zollner, Protecting Children in the Church in Civ. Catt. English Edition, April 2017          

[5] The pope gave a very significant homily during the Mass celebrated with the participation of victims, July 7, 2014. Also helpful is the text of a preface the pope wrote for a book by an abuse victim: D. Pittet, La perdono, padre (I forgive you, father), Milan, Piemme, 2017.

[6] Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley gave a wide-reaching talk to the Consistory of February 12, 2015. It was the pope who chose the theme for that meeting (cf. text in the section of the Vatican website indicated in note 1).


[8] “The diocesan bishop … can be legitimately removed from this office if he has through negligence committed or through omission facilitated acts that have caused grave harm to others, either to physical persons or to the community as a whole. The harm may be physical, moral, spiritual or patrimonial” (art. 1). The document specifies the competencies in the procedure, depending on the specific cases, in the different dicasteries – Congregation for Bishops, Oriental Churches, Evangelization of Peoples, Consecrated Life – and reserves the final decision to the pope, in line with the universal law of the Church. The multiple competencies show how difficult it can be to set out and develop quickly and with the same criteria the procedures foreseen.

[9] Cf. H. Zollner – K.A. Fuchs, “La dignità dei minori nel mondo digitale. Un congresso internazionale alla Gregoriana,” in Civ. Catt. 2017 IV 333-338. Following this congress, the Child Dignity Alliance was formed to promote study groups and international initiatives, including the meeting of leaders of different religions on the protection of minors that took place in Abu Dhabi, November 19-20, 2018.

[10] Ample comments on the “Letter to the People of God” and on the previous “Letter to the People of God on pilgrimage in Chile” have been published in La Civiltà Cattolica. Cf. D. Fares, “Francesco e lo scandalo degli abusi in Cile. Le lettere ai vescovi e al santo Popolo fedele di Dio,” in Civ. Catt. 2018 III 155-166; J. Hanvey, “Sradicare la cultura dell’abuse,” ibid. 2018 IV 271-278.

[11] Cf. H. Zollner, The Spiritual Wounds of Sexual Abuse, in Civ. Catt. English edition, January 2018

[12] An example of the will to recognize the truth, even about the past, and to communicate it transparently, notwithstanding any possible reactions and instrumentalization, is seen in the different reports made by independent experts engaged by the episcopal conferences. Recently, much noise was made about the inquiry made in Germany about the 70 years since the Second World War, which was presented publically in Fulda in September by Cardinal Reinhard Marx, president of the episcopal conference, and by Bishop Stephan Ackermann, who is the reference person for the theme.

[13] Sometimes, in situations where the Church is in the minority or is weak compared to society, there is a fear that bringing to light any scandal in the community or ecclesial setting can leave the Church open to deadly attacks in the hostile context.