- Pope Francis gives the bishops' conference chairman an eight-point plan as a homework assignment on the way: the focus should be on child protection.
- The church will "subject anyone who has committed such crimes to justice" and "never try to cover up or underestimate a case".
- The church also has a duty to accompany abused persons and to provide them with all necessary assistance
Perhaps the Sala Regia, the splendid passageway to the Sistine Chapel, is indeed the place of repentance and conversion. Frescoes with moments of papal triumphs decorate the walls, including the victory in the naval battle at Lepanto over the Ottoman Empire. The best artists of the sixteenth century were just good enough to stage the power and glory of the church.
So here is Pope Francis explaining how the Catholic Church wants to deal with the scandal of sexual violence against children and young people in the future; he will give a keynote address, it is said. Since Thursday, a total of 190 Bishops' Conference Chairpersons, Curia Representatives and Superior Sisters have been advising. On Saturday evening they have met once before in the Sala Regia, to the common penitential exercise. A young man, a victim of abuse, told them, "Any kind of abuse is the worst humiliation one can inflict on a person." He fought tears as he talked. Then he played a piece by Johann Sebastian Bach on the violin.
Now, on Sunday morning, the final worship service of the meeting follows; The Australian Archbishop Mark Coleridge calls in the sermon a "Copernican revolution" – it should no longer be the church in the center, this would be the survivors of violence. After the final blessing Pope Francis comes to the podium. The abuse, he says, is "unfortunately a common phenomenon in all societies and cultures," which has long been taboo. He compares this abuse with the practice of "sacrificing people – often children – in pagan rituals". Mostly he finds in the family instead, in addition to the Internet over the world-wide spread pornography and sex tourism.
Only then does the Pope come to speak to the Catholic Church. The "inhumanity of the phenomenon" would become "more inhuman and scandalous in the Church"; the "consecrated person, chosen by God to lead souls to salvation, is enslaved by their human weakness or illness, becoming Satan's instrument". Against the devil so it needs now uniform guidelines. It would be necessary to avoid the extremes of a "mania for justice" and "self-justification".
The Episcopal Conferences must now implement the provisions of the pontiff in a binding manner
It is then an eight-point plan, which Francis gives to the Bishops' Conference Chair as a homework assignment: child protection must be at the center of all action; it was "giving priority to the victims of abuse". The church will "subject anyone who has committed such crimes to justice" and "never try to cover up or underestimate a case". In addition, she needs a "real cleaning", "even with the involvement of experts". The candidates for the priesthood must be offered "a balanced training path, which is oriented to holiness and includes the virtue of chastity". The Episcopal Conferences must put their guidelines on dealing with abuse cases into force as "norms and not just as orientations". It is also the duty of the church to accompany abused persons and to provide them with all necessary assistance; she had to "waste time listening".
Is this the seminal speech, the great liberation of the pope after a crisis summit, which has not yet existed in church history? After all, when the Pope leaves the Sala Regia, it is clear: Francis has made the matter a top priority. No bishop in the world can talk himself out of the matter anymore. But otherwise? Is it enough to demonize the abuse as a work of the devil? Francis announces only a concrete change in church law: The possession of child pornography with victims over 14 years will be severely punished in the future. But the question of whether a convicted perpetrator can still be a priest and a reticent bishop or bishop, remains out of the question. It goes unmentioned how abuse cases are to be worked up, how victims can be compensated. And is it really enough to better convey to priests the meaning of chastity?
The organizations of those affected demand to transfer transferred perpetrators into the lay state
Even during the conference it had become apparent that the church representatives were skeptical about the demand for "zero tolerance", for a zero-tolerance line, as demanded by the associations concerned. The demand to transfer transferred perpetrators and secrecy to the laity, many find in rejection – in terms of canon law, this is difficult, the cases are different, and the church is still responsible for these men.
Accordingly unsatisfied are on Sunday, the representatives of those affected. "The Pope's speech is a shameless attempt to be at the forefront of the movement without facing blame and failure and taking on real change," said a representative of Ending Clergy Abuse (ECA), the international victims' association. The "Survivors", the survivors, may once again not feel taken seriously by the Catholic church leadership.
Cardinal Reinhard Marx, chairman of the German Bishops' Conference, had met with ECA representatives on Friday, listening to their stories for more than an hour, enduring anger, emotion and tears. On Sunday he draws a positive balance: The conference in the Vatican was "an important step forward" had been. The disappointment about the outcome of the meeting was due to the false expectation that it should have led to concrete decisions.
However, the Munich Cardinal will still have to deal with the high expectations: in two weeks, the German bishops will discuss in Lingen at their spring meeting what the meeting in Rome means for them. Several younger bishops have already called for a synod in Germany, a comprehensive church assembly.