The Commitment of the Church Against the Abuse of Minors

Author: Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino

The Commitment of the Church Against the Abuse of Minors

Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino

Cardinal Martino on the campaign promoted by the Council of Europe

On Monday, 29 November [2010], Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino spoke at the inauguration of the Campaign promoted by the Council of Europe against violence to minors. The following is a translation of the Cardinal's answer in Italian to a question on the Catholic Church's commitment to put an end to the abuse of children.

A first crucial contribution has been made by Pope Benedict XVI. I have the privilege today to bring you his strong encouragement for your work against sexual violence to children. You know of the suffering, clarity, rigour and determination with which the Pontiff has recently faced the reality of sexual crimes involving children. In his Pastoral Letter to the Catholics of Ireland (19 March 2010), for example, the Pope wrote: "I have been deeply disturbed by the information which has come to light regarding the abuse of children and vulnerable young people by members of the Church.... I can only share in the dismay and the sense of betrayal that so many of you have experienced on learning of these sinful and criminal acts".

A few days ago, on 19 November, on the occasion of the Consistory, the Pope faced this issue with all the Cardinals of the world. According to Benedict XVI, the crime and scandal of sexual violence against children demands a radical "conversion" of humanity and also of members of the Church herself. The most profound origin of these crimes is in fact sin. Obviously it is also a question of very grave crimes that must therefore be tried in both canonical and civil courts.

My long experience in New York at the United Nations and later as Head of the Vatican Dicastery concerned with Justice and Peace, has enabled me to observe with distress the extent of the reality of violence to children. A first detailed survey on a world scale that testifies to the gravity of this phenomenon is The United Nations Secretary-General's Study on Violence against Children, published in 2006. For the first time children took part in this research who were able to describe clearly the violence they had undergone and also to make suggestions for the solution to the problem. The data show that violence occurs in the first place in the context of the family itself and in the family circle, but also at school and in the various institutions. More than 200 million minors have been sexually abused.

Thus it is necessary to face the drama bearing in mind how widespread it is. It would be contradictory and ideological to consider only those institutions that have opted for transparency. It is a question of creating the broadest possible synergy and collaboration among all forces, at both the local and global levels. The commitment to the protection of minors and young people is therefore an immense and inexhaustible field of work.

The experience that the Church is making in this area may be useful for other institutions too or for the whole of society. I would like to point out very concisely four topics on which the Church can make a significant contribution.

1. Help for, listening to and acceptance of victims is essential and delicate. It is necessary to continue to seek the truth and peace for those offended. It is striking to note that many interior wounds are coming to light today that date back many years — at times several decades — but are evidently still raw. Many victims do not seek financial compensation but rather inner help, advice in their painful personal story. There is something that has yet to be properly understood. We should probably go deeper into the events which have had such a negative effect on the lives of these people. Abuse injures at a deep personal level.

2. First of all, in order to proceed with rigour and transparency there is a task to be carried out within every institution. The Church was recently concerned with making known and updating canonical legislation on the crime of the sexual abuse of minors. On 21 May 2010 "the most grave delicts" that concern the procedures and application of the Motu Proprio Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela. The sexual abuse of children is one of the "gravest" crimes. Among the innovations introduced, in comparison with the previous Norms can be mentioned: the speeding up of the procedures; the extension of the sentence from 10 to 20 years; the equating of people with a limited use of reason to minors; and lastly, the introduction of a new case: paedo-pornography.

A Circular Letter of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is being drawn up for the Bishops' Conferences with guidelines for a coordinated, effective and permanent programme. Many initiatives and documents have already been produced by the Bishops' Conferences. In Ireland an Apostolic Visitation is taking place. Its purpose is to ascertain how the Church has responded to the problem of abuse and how we can help her avoid their repetition.

3. A third topic is that on collaboration with the civil authorities. It is necessary to take into account that the above-mentioned Norms are part of the canonical penal order, complete in itself and completely distinct from that of the States. However, it is equally clear that it is always necessary to collaborate with the legislative and judicial authorities and to follow up punctually the measures of the civil law in force in the country, especially with regard to submitting crimes to the relevant authorities.

4. The last decisive topic which I would like to mention is that of prevention and formation, concerning children and families as well as the personnel in educational institutions. In the formation and selection of personnel it is essential to be very strict and also to reckon with a cultural context that has often corrupted the profound and harmonious significance of sexuality and emotional relationships. All possible measures too must be taken against new phenomena: such as paedophilia and child pornography on the Internet.

Lastly, it is worth emphasizing that what I have described is only an example of what is being done. It is a question overall of an ongoing process, because we cannot feel we have ever done enough to ensure that our children are adequately protected.

I wish this campaign every success and I thank you for your attention.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
8 December 2010, page 12

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