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06 All Eyes on the Summit

posted Feb 14, 2019, 6:13 PM by Neil D'Souza   [ updated Mar 21, 2019, 6:22 PM ]
From February 21 to 24, 2019, Catholic and secular media will have their eyes pinned on Rome, as Presidents from Episcopal Conferences around the world gather in the Vatican to collectively confront the most pressing problem facing the Catholic Church today – the scandal of clerical sexual abuse. The summit will gather together some 180 officials, including the heads of bishops' conferences, members of Vatican departments, members of religious orders, and victims themselves. The summit is being seen as a high stakes event for Pope Francis' pontificate.

On November 23 of last year, Pope Francis announced that Cardinal Oswald Gracias – who also serves on the C9 Council of Cardinal advisors – would be one of the organisers of the summit. Cardinal Oswald Gracias is the only non-Western member of the Organising Committee. He, along with Chicago Cardinal Blasé Cupich, Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna and German Jesuit Fr Hans Zollner have put in the spadework to prepare for the summit, and it will largely fall on them to ensure that the Holy Father's objectives for this worldwide meeting are met. Cardinal Gracias' selection on the Organising Committee demonstrates the faith the Holy Father reposes in him. He is well-renowned as one of the foremost canonical experts and his contribution to the summit will be invaluable.

Aboard the Papal plane returning from Panama, where he presided over the World Youth Day, Pope Francis said that his expectations for the summit were threefold: to offer a "catechesis" to bishops' conferences that would make the "drama of children who've been abused" comprehensible, to teach bishops how to respond when facing an allegation of abuse by a member of the clergy, and to hopefully set up guidelines or "protocols" on how Church leaders should handle abuse cases. He has however warned that there should not be "exaggerated" expectations from the summit, since a single meeting will not eradicate the problem of abuse permanently. "This is a human problem that is everywhere. If we resolve the issue within the Church, we may be able to help solve it in society, in families. But firstly, we need to become conscious of it, have the protocols, and move forward," he said.

Cardinal Gracias has himself taken the protection of minors very seriously in the Archdiocese of Bombay. The Child Protection Policy has been implemented in the Archdiocese since July 16, 2015. The policy has been implemented in all schools under the patronage of the Archdiocesan Board of Education. In clergy meetings, His Eminence has firmly stated a zero-tolerance policy regarding child abuse in all parishes and Church-run institutions. As President of India's bishops' conference, Cardinal Gracias has helped formulate guidelines at the national level for the protection of minors and vulnerable adults.

At the international level, though, the meeting is expected to be contentious. For one, many Bishops see this as a primarily Western problem, and hence are opposed to Rome coming out with universal guidelines which will apply to all Local Churches. Divisions among Church leaders were apparent during October's Synod of Bishops meeting in Rome, with many prelates from Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe and Italy resisting efforts to publicly proclaim a commitment to "zero tolerance." Secondly, many survivors of abuse and activists critical of the Vatican's pace of reforms, have said that this is the Vatican's "last chance" to be taken seriously. They are expecting the summit to result in concrete guidelines for Church leaders who deal with abuse cases. They are also looking forward to a clear accountability policy for bishops and a culture of transparency within the Church in dealing with sexual abuse cases.

It is important to remember that the Church has been working relentlessly to eradicate this crisis for the last 16 years, especially since the pontificate of Benedict XVI. Stringent reforms and swift action have ensured that in many countries, the Church is now one of the safest places for young people. It has gone further than any other institution to ensure those mistakes can never be repeated. Still, the Vatican wants to weed out the problem from its roots. Cardinal Gracias has said that the Committee is "committed to achieving specific outcomes from this meeting that reflect the mind of Pope Francis. It cannot be cosmetic." (with inputs from Crux)

Fr Joshan Rodrigues is on the Editorial board of The Examiner.