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Vatican safeguarding group calls on Synod on Synodality to address abuse in the Church

Delegates at the Synod on Synodality participate in small-group round table discussions Oct. 9, 2023. / Credit: Vatican Media

Vatican City, Oct 10, 2023 / 11:00 am (CNA).

The Vatican’s safeguarding commission has called on the Synod on Synodality to make sexual abuse “an explicit part” of discussions during the October assembly.

The group also condemned “harmful deficiencies in the norms intended to punish abusers” related to recent public cases and a lack of accountability by those responsible for punishing wrongdoing in the Church. 

A copy of the message from the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors (PCPM) was shared with every synod participant on Oct. 9. 

The letter was originally published by the commission Sept. 27, three days before a consistory to create 21 new cardinals and one week before the start of the monthlong synod assembly going on now through Oct. 29.

“The reality of sexual abuse in our Church goes to the heart of the synod’s agenda,” the letter says. “It deals with who we are as a community of faith, founded on Jesus. It permeates discussions on leadership models, ministry roles, professional standards of behavior, and of being in right relationship with one another and all of creation.”

“We ask that sexual abuse in the Church permeate your discussions as they address teaching, ministry, formation, and governance,” it continued.

The statement also urged the synod to dedicate time to the testimony of abuse victims and survivors, noting that many of the synod participants have experiences confronting or dealing with sexual abuse in the Church.

The PCPM, instituted in 2014, provides recommendations to the pope and local Churches on how to best protect minors and vulnerable adults from sexual abuse. In 2022, the independent commission was given a more central role in the Roman Curia within the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The group’s letter pointed to “recent publicly reported cases” that show “tragically harmful deficiencies in the norms intended to punish abusers and hold accountable those whose duty is to address wrongdoing.”

The PCPM said procedural flaws that leave victims wounded and in the dark need to be fixed and pledged to continue to study where changes can be made “so that all those affected by these atrocious crimes get access to truth, justice, and reparation.”

Five years after a Vatican summit of Church leaders on the safeguarding of minors in the Church, “deep frustrations remain,” the group noted. “No one should have to beg for justice in the Church.”

The letter said a continued, unacceptable resistance to getting justice for victims points to “a scandalous lack of resolve by many in the Church that is often compounded by a serious lack of resources.”

“We hear and are disturbed by reports of the actions of individuals holding responsible offices within the Church, the cries of those impacted, as well as the legacy of atrocious behavior associated with lay and other movements and so many areas of the Church’s institutional life,” the commission continued.

“We are profoundly shaken by the immense pain, enduring suffering, and revictimization experienced by so many, and we unequivocally condemn crimes and their impunity perpetrated against so many of our brothers and sisters,” the group’s letter said. “We reaffirm our steadfast commitment to work to ensure, as much as possible, such heinous and reprehensible acts are eradicated from the Church.”

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