Pope shows how Church must protect children Print
Written by By Mary C. Uhler, Catholic Herald Staff   
Thursday, Jul. 17, 2014 -- 12:00 AM

Many years ago, I received a phone call from someone who complained that a priest had been removed from her parish because of an allegation of sexual abuse of a child. (We have had very few such cases in our diocese, thanks be to God and the vigilance of our bishops and diocesan leaders.)

The caller said to me, “He was such a wonderful priest. I can’t imagine that he would harm a child.”

Fortunately, I was able to respond with some knowledge, since I had gone through training in the VIRTUS program in our diocese. VIRTUS is designed to help prevent abuse and respond to risky situations.

I told the caller, “Yes, he may be a wonderful priest. Many abusers are friendly, outgoing people. But if a priest could have harmed even one child, he should be removed from the parish until the case can be reviewed. We have to think of the well-being of children first.”

It is unfortunate that children weren’t put first in the Catholic Church -- and indeed society at large -- in past years, when instances of abuse were ignored or even covered up to protect the perpetrators.

Pope Francis vows to protect children

On July 7, Pope Francis proved that he will hold bishops, priests, and all members of the Catholic Church accountable to protect children from abuse.

Pope Francis celebrated Mass on July 7 with six men and women who had been abused by clergy. He gave a powerful homily in which he begged forgiveness for the “sins of omission on the part of Church leaders who did not respond adequately to reports of abuse made by family members, as well as by abuse victims themselves.”

The Holy Father emphasized, “There is no place in the Church’s ministry for those who commit these abuses, and I commit myself not to tolerate harm done to a minor by any individual, whether a cleric or not. All bishops must carry out their pastoral ministry with the utmost care in order to help foster the protection of minors, and they will be held accountable.”

Pope listens to survivors

Besides the pope’s words, what was perhaps the most striking was the fact that Pope Francis sat down for a real conversation — without aides or officials — for a total of two and a half hours, reported a Catholic News Service (CNS) article by Carol Glatz.

“The pope gave so much time. There was no hurry, there was no clock watching. Each survivor got the time they needed to tell the pope their story or whatever they wanted to say,” said Marie Collins, who accompanied one of the two survivors from Ireland for the closed-door papal meeting.

“It was wonderful to see the pope listening so intently, for the survivor to feel heard and have the opportunity to say everything they wanted to say,” said Collins, who herself is a survivor of clerical abuse.

The eye contact, the silent reflection, and how the pope reacted all showed how “it must have been hugely emotional for him as well as for each of the survivors,” she said.

Church is striving to protect children

Collins is also a member of the new Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. She said listening to the personal stories of survivors is a message to all bishops of what they should be doing.

Collins was quoted in the CNS story as saying, “It’s a win-win situation. For the survivors it can be very healing to be listened to,” and when Church leaders hear and learn more about the nature and effects of the abuse, “It can help them” in seeing what should be done.

The Catholic Church has been doing much to deal with the scandal of abuse and it has been declining within the Church. However, the entire Church must remain vigilant in safeguarding children. Pope Francis is leading by example, showing us the way to have zero tolerance for abuse of minors and to do all we can to protect children.