Cardinal Gracias emphasizes collegiality to address sex abuse

Vatican City, Feb 22, 2019 / 02:45 pm (CNA).- Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay called Friday for the “entire Church” to “act decisively to prevent abuse from occurring in the future and to do whatever possible to foster healing for victims.”

Calling the abuse suffered at the hands of those in the Church “a profound betrayal of trust,” he offered practical solutions mainly focused on fostering better communication on all levels of the Church’s hierarchy during a Feb. 22 speech at the Vatican.

“As serious as the direct abuse of children and vulnerable adults is, the indirect damage inflicted by those with directive responsibility within the Church can be worse by re-victimising those who have already suffered abuse,” the cardinal noted.

Gracias is one of the principal organizers of a Vatican summit taking place this week to address the sexual abuse of minors, which features the presidents of national bishops’ conferences worldwide.

Gracias himself admitted to the BBC Feb. 21 that he could have better handled sexual abuse allegations that were brought to him in the past, after several Indian victims of sexual abuse told the BBC that Gracias failed to respond quickly or offer support to victims.

Gracias said the way to address the crisis must involve the “regional, national, local-diocesan, and even parochial levels,” which all must work together to create binding measures and decisions. He noted a recent meeting of the bishops of the Democratic Republic of Congo as an example of the bishops of a nation coming together in a collegial manner to address national challenges.

“No bishop should say to himself, ‘I face these problems and challenges alone,’” Gracias underscored, speaking of the concepts of collegiality and synodality.

“Because we belong to the college of bishops in union with the Holy Father, we all share accountability and responsibility. Collegiality is an essential context for addressing wounds of abuse inflicted on victims and on the Church at large.”

Gracias cited a passage from Lumen gentium, the Second Vatican Council’s dogmatic constitution on the Church, which teaches that individual bishops are “obliged by Christ’s institution and command to be solicitous for the whole Church.” He also noted that further development of “intercultural competences” and intercultural communication will help with effective decision making.

“The point is clear,” Gracias said.

“No bishop may say to himself, ‘This problem of abuse in the Church does not concern me, because things are different in my part of the world.’ We are each responsible for the whole Church. We hold accountability and responsibility together. We extend our concern beyond our local Church to embrace all the Churches with which we are in communion.”

Gracias pointed out that a culture of silence among bishops, unwilling to admit to mistakes and to engage other bishops in open conversation and point out “problematic behavior,” has contributed to the abuse crisis. He encouraged the cultivation of a culture of fraternal correction, where bishops are able to correct each other without offending the other, while also recognizing “criticism from a brother as an opportunity to better fulfil our tasks.”

He also called for better communication between bishops’ conferences and Rome.

“We can always only take responsibility for something insofar as we are allowed to do so, and the more responsibility we are granted, the better we can serve our own flock,” he said.

Gracias highlighted three main themes for his brother bishops to reflect on: justice, healing, and pilgrimage.

“The sexual abuse of minors and other vulnerable people not only breaks divine and ecclesiastical law, it is also public criminal behaviour,” he said.

“The Church does not only live in an isolated world of its own making…Those who are guilty of criminal behaviour are justly accountable to civil authority for that behaviour.”

Although the Church is not an agent of the state, he said, the Church recognises the legitimate authority of civil law and the state and cooperates with civil authorities to bring justice to survivors. This is only possible if bishops and local Churches can work together to build an appropriate relationship with the state.

Healing for victims requires “clear, transparent, and consistent communication” from the Church as well, Gracias said, beginning with “a respectful outreach and an honest acknowledgement of their pain and hurt.”

“Although this would seem to be obvious, it has not always been communicated,” he said.

“Ignoring or minimising what victims have experienced only exacerbates their pain and delays their healing. Within a collegial Church, we can summon each other to attentiveness and
compassion that enable us to make this outreach and acknowledgement.”

Once the hurt has been acknowledged, the Church can offer to help victims heal with the help of “professional counselling to support groups of peers” or other means, and can then implement measures to prevent abuse in the future.

“Our Holy Father has wisely and correctly said that abuse is a human problem. It is not, of course, limited to the Church. In fact, it is a pervasive and sad reality across all sectors of life. Out of this particularly challenging moment in the life of the Church, we – again in a collegial context – can draw on and develop resources which can be of great service to a larger world.”

Finally, the cardinal reflected on the pilgrim nature of the Church, noting that “we know that we have not yet arrived at our destination,” and “we are a community that is called to continuous repentance and continuous discernment.”

“We must repent – and do so together, collegially – because along the way we have failed. We need to seek pardon. We must also be in a process of continuous discernment. In other words, together or collegially, we need to watch, wait, observe, and discover the direction that God is giving us in the circumstances of our lives,” Gracias said.

The cardinal concluded by reminding his brother bishops that undertaking these tasks is not their mission alone, but that these actions “are the work of the Holy Spirit.”

“So, let the last word be Veni, Sancte Spiritus, veni,” he concluded.

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