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Vatican launches website in response to clergy sex scandals

Catholic clergy
The Vatican's new website provides resources aimed at preventing clerical sexual abuse and promoting healing for past victims. Creative Commons image by Stefano Rellandini

VATICAN CITY (RNS) The Vatican has launched a website as part of its efforts to protect children from clerical sexual abuse and promote healing and reconciliation.

It’s the first time that the Vatican has published resources and documents on the issue, and the site is sponsored by the commission set up by Pope Francis to protect minors.

“It is very important for the commission to have a means to communicate,” Marie Collins, an Irish abuse survivor and commission member, told Religion News Service on Tuesday (Dec. 6).

“I hope eventually people will also use it to communicate with the commission.”

The commission was established by the pope in 2013 and is headed by Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley.

The new website includes a template for local churches seeking to protect minors from clerical sex abuse, guidelines on how to handle complaints and options for education and healing.

It also provides news and information about the commission in an easily accessible format and promotes greater sharing of information within the church.

“Awareness is so important, anything that encourages people to come forward and seek help,” Collins said. “This is very important to me as a survivor.”

The site is in English and will eventually have versions in Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese. It includes contact details – an email address and telephone number — for the commission, which hopes to promote education and awareness, especially in Africa, Latin America and Asia, where the problem has not received as much attention.

“It is very important to the commission that we are as transparent as possible,” Emer McCarthy, coordinator of the project for the commission, told CNN. “Our members want people to know that they are doing their level best to carry out the commission of the Holy Father.”

When the pope created the commission he tasked it with advising him on effective policies for the protection of minors and vulnerable adults as well as educational programs for all who are involved in this work.

He has spoken out against clerical abuse several times and in February 2015 said the church needed to rid itself of the “scourge” of sex abuse.

“Families need to know that the Church is making every effort to protect their children,” he said in a letter to bishops at the time. “They should also know that they have every right to turn to the church with full confidence, for it is a safe and secure home.”

The body has 17 active members, both religious and lay, men and women, from a variety of backgrounds and from every continent.

(Josephine McKenna covers the Vatican for RNS)

About the author

Josephine McKenna

Josephine McKenna has more than 30 years' experience in print, broadcast and interactive media. Based in Rome since 2007, she covered the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and election of Pope Francis and canonizations of their predecessors. Now she covers all things Vatican for RNS.

9 Comments

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  • The fact that a “template for local churches seeking to protect minors from clerical sexual abuse” is necessary, speaks volumes. In other words, despite the harrowing present scandal, this is an admission by the RCC that additional abuses are anticipated in the future. Perhaps the RCC should address the culture or policies that allow such abuse in the 1st place.

  • What people need to remember is that pedophiles seek positions of trust around children – churches, schools, and sports. The RC church’s real sin was covering up and transferring priests to molest again instead of rooting it out.

  • “Protecting minors from clerical sexual abuse, and promoting healing” via such a website is itself scandalous! It attempts to be a proactive stance–educating parents and children, etc., but in doing so it comes dangerously close to “blaming the victim!” Children were not sexually abused because they asked for it; it happened because those priests didn’t observe proper moral boundaries in dealing with their flock. I believe that the church’s stance on celibacy is at the very core of this. In different times, many young men were rushed into the priesthood before they had a chance to explore their sexuality, so all that repressed energy turned many of these into perverts with children.

    The only thing that will protect children from this kind of abuse is eternal vigilance by all the adults in a parish, plus very careful oversight of priests by their superiors. (that is, after the church finally weeds out all the pedofiles from among the superiors!)

  • PS. I left out the healing piece: the only thing that will affect the healing of these hundreds of victims, is the church’s admission of their culpability, followed by the offer of perhaps a year’s worth of counseling by a therapist of each victim’s choice and payed for by the church. Since parishioners–putting their offering in the basket, are the one’s paying for all the lawsuits that have gone forth, paying for counseling for any victim who chooses it, is both better bargain and a more “Christian” option. (Doesn’t the scriptures mention that Christians are not to sue each other in court?!

    The church needs to continually beg for the victims’ forgiveness for this horrendous moral breach by people should have known better, It will take a long time for this healing to take place. The more open the church is be about their culpability, and the continued vulnerability of some of it’s clergy, the more convinced parishioners will be that the church is serious. Sunlight is always the best disinfectant!

  • Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) responded:
    “Among other “resources,” the new Vatican abuse website “provides links to statements by Popes John Paul II, Benedict and Francis over the past 15 years on the subject.”
    Really?
    Like the one where Francis, on his one year anniversary in office, claimed “No one else has done more (on abuse) than the church. Yet the church is the only one to be attacked.”
    Or the one where Francis praised the “courage” of US bishops in the crisis.
    Or the one where Francis said “In my diocese it (clergy sex cases) never happened to me. . .”
    Or the one where Francis ¬¬¬¬defended Chilean Bishop Juan Barros, who reportedly witnessed at least three children being assaulted by Fr. Fernando Karadima, telling Catholics “Don’t let yourselves be led by the noses of all the leftists who have plotted this. . .”
    Or the one where Francis’ representative to a United Nations panel said Vatican officials have no responsibility for abusive clerics because “”priests are citizens of their own states, and they fall under the jurisdiction of their own country.”

  • “There should be a clear statement about compliance with the requirements of civil authorities . . . . This should include any civil requirements on mandatory reporting.”

    I believe this is a critical piece. There will be no transparency and no trust if abuse is only reported to the church, nor if civil law enforcement does not vigorously enforce the law without regard to the RCC’s wishes.

    All of this is from the “Guidelines” and is not written policy. It will amount to sound and fury and nothing else unless matched with equal action. Is this merely cover, or is it genuine? Time will tell.

  • I think you have a very good point Sable. I would add that the power structure contributes too. Priests are not answerable to anyone in the local parish. Lay people are totally cut out of the RCC power structure and that creates a very high level of vulnerability for them and their families. The absolute power vested in the RCC ordained is the chief cause of the RCC systemic rot.

  • As I’ve said, “sunlight is the very best disinfectant!” Those gorgeous stained glass windows just don’t let in enough light!

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