Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston. / Daniel Ibanez/CNA
Rome, Italy, May 26, 2022 / 10:54 am (CNA).
Cardinal Seán O’Malley urged Italian Catholic bishops on Wednesday to work for a “pastoral conversion” in their approach to survivors of sexual abuse by clergy.
The head of the Vatican’s abuse commission made the appeal in a video message played on the third day of the bishops’ plenary assembly in Rome, taking place on May 23-27.
“We have nothing to fear by telling the truth. The truth will set us free. Acknowledging people’s stories of abuse, listening to survivors, and committing to working together is not easy, but I can tell you after 40 years that it is the only way,” the archbishop of Boston said.
He went on: “Sometimes, and perhaps rightly so, it seems there are no adequate steps we can take to make things right for those who have been abused.”
“It is perhaps the most difficult part of being a pastor: knowing that our listening and our efforts at healing and justice will likely fall short of what survivors are looking for. It’s a sober reminder that ultimately only God’s grace can make whole what sin has broken.”
O’Malley’s message came as the Italian bishops discussed whether to hold a national inquiry into abuse.
Italian associations joined together in February to coordinate a movement against abuse in the Catholic Church in Italy. The network, which calls itself #ItalyChurchToo, is pushing the bishops to carry out an independent investigation into clerical sexual abuse in Italy over the last 70 years.
The consortium sent a letter to the Italian bishops’ conference on May 23 at the start of its general assembly.
“We demand truth, justice, and prevention,” it said, calling for an investigation into abuse, the opening of Church archives, compensation for victims, and a strict application of Pope Francis’ norms on the handling of abuse cases by bishops.
In his message, Cardinal O’Malley said that “the reality is that we will be judged on our response to the abuse.”
He proposed seven areas where pastoral conversion was needed: “1. An effective pastoral care of victims; 2. Clear guidance (and vigilance) on training courses for staff in the diocese; 3. Adequate and accurate screening; 4. Removal of perpetrators of abuse; 5. Cooperation with civil authorities; 6. Careful assessment of the risks existing for priests guilty of abuse (for themselves and the community) once they have been reduced to the lay state; 7. Public verification of the protocols in place so that people know the policies are working. An audit and report on the implementation of the policies is very useful.”
“The good news,” he said, “is that where effective policies are adopted and effectively implemented, the number of cases is dramatically reduced.”
“Sexual abuse has always been wrong, for sure,” O’Malley continued. “But the response of leaders in the Church and in civil society have also been wrong. We have learned a great deal over these past forty years. We have come to see and understand how it has ruined lives, led to substance addictions, and even the tragedy of known and hidden suicides.”
“There is a sea of suffering that we are called to face up to,” he said.
The cardinal told bishops that the “work of listening, healing, and justice is being asked of us since it belongs to the fundamental ministry of a priest and pastor: to welcome people and to be instruments of God’s grace for those who have been hurt by life, even when that hurt comes from within our own ranks.”
“One of the strongest desires of the human heart is to feel safe. Our people want to feel safe in our Church and that means they want to be strengthened in their faith by their pastors,” he said.