Ten years after the clergy sexual abuse scandal erupted in the United States, Catholic bishops from all over the world will meet this week at a Vatican summit aimed at preventing abuse and protecting children.
The conference, “Towards Healing and Renewal,” will be held Feb. 6-9 and is organized by the Jesuit-run Gregorian University in Rome.
The Vatican’s top spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, told reporters on Feb. 3 that the summit enjoys the “full support and participation” of the Vatican’s highest offices, but Pope Benedict XVI is not expected to attend.
Monsignor Charles Scicluna, the Vatican’s chief abuse prosecutor, said the protection of children must become “a permanent principle and concern” in every decision of the church. “There cannot be a distinction between the good of the church and the protection of youth,” he said.
Last May, the Vatican gave all bishops’ conferences around the world one year to draft voluntary “guidelines” on preventing abuse, caring for victims, disciplining abusive priests, and reporting suspected abuse to local police.
Next week’s summit will bring together representatives from 110 bishops conferences, the heads of 30 religious orders and officials from most Vatican departments. Workshops will focus on a bishop’s responsibility to protect children and the psychological effects of abuse.
Bishop R. Daniel Conlon of Joliet, Ill., chairman of the Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is the official representative of the U.S. church.
The bishops and other delegates will hear the story of a sex abuse victim and participate in a “penitential vigil,” where representatives of seven groups who have been responsible of sex abuse or failed to prevent it will ask for forgiveness.
Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, will preside over the vigil while Cardinal William Levada, whose Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has jurisdiction over all abuse cases, will give the opening address.
Victims’ advocates have criticized the Vatican’s response to the scandal, accusing church officials of not disciplining bishops who failed to punish and report predator priests. Mary Collins, an Irish sex abuse victim, told journalists that she had been unsure whether to accept the Vatican’s invitation to address the conference, but had finally accepted in order to help protect as many children as possible.
“The church can become a leader in child protection,” she said, adding that she hoped Benedict would personally and publicly ask for forgiveness. “It would be the most wonderful thing for victims and for the church.”
Lombardi said Benedict would send the conference participants a message through his Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.