Pope Francis urges bishops to expand outreach to victims of abuse

Pope Francis has called on Catholic bishops’ conferences to create special centers to accommodate victims of clergy sexual abuse, warning that the faithful will continue to lose trust in the Church hierarchy without more transparency and accountability.

Francis urged his advisory commission on sexual abuse, which he created in 2013 as an ad hoc body and recently fully integrated into the Vatican structure, to help episcopal conferences around the world establish reception centers survivors where victims could find healing and justice.

And he called on the commission to conduct an annual audit of what is being done around the world by the Catholic hierarchy and what needs to change to better protect children and vulnerable adults from abuse.

“Without this progress, the faithful will continue to lose confidence in their pastors, and the preaching and witnessing of the Gospel will become increasingly difficult,” he warned.

It was the latest effort by the Argentine pope to try to resolve the Catholic Church’s current credibility crisis over its legacy of sexual abuse and cover-up of priests, and the Vatican’s often tone-deaf response to the trauma suffered by the Catholic Church. victims.

Francis established the commission, known as the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, during the first year of his pontificate to advise the Church on best practices for protecting minors and preventing abuse.

Pope Francis (Alessandra Tarantino/AP)

But his limited mandate has frustrated survivors, his external efforts at accountability have met with resistance and one of his biggest initial recommendations, a special Vatican tribunal to prosecute bishops who covered up pedophiles, is not. gone nowhere.

But Francis, who himself has a mixed record as pope and archbishop of Buenos Aires, has sought to breathe new life into the commission.

In his recent reform of the Vatican bureaucracy, he gave the commission greater institutional weight by integrating it into the new Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican office that handles cases of clergy sexual abuse in the world.

In his speech to committee members on Friday, Francis assured them that by integrating them further into the Vatican bureaucracy, he was in no way attempting to restrict their freedom or independence or limit their tenure – quite the contrary, he said. he declared.

“It is your responsibility to expand the scope of this mission so that the protection and care of those who have suffered abuse can become the norm in all areas of church life,” he said. -he declares.

The creation of special shelters for victims, if effective, could help address a long-standing complaint from abuse survivors who often report negative experiences with the church hierarchy when reporting a priestly aggressor.

Often they are left in the dark about the progress of their case and left on their own to try to heal.

In 2019, Francis passed a new Church law explicitly saying that survivors have a right to know the outcome of their case, and he also lifted the papal secrecy that covered these investigations to facilitate transparency with victims as well. than with law enforcement.

But victims’ advocates say the church still has a long way to go to adequately care for victims and the long-term trauma they endure.

“The testimony of survivors represents an open wound on the body of Christ, which is the Church,” Francis said.

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