In today’s NY Times a Vatican-called conference on child sexual abuse is going on and the clearest advice given thus far has encouraged the Vatican to listen to those abused rather than a focusing on those who wronged them exclusively. They were urged to get a lot of help in dealing with the crimes committed.

Monsignor Rossetti said he believed that church leaders — usually called on to deal with their own priests — should not handle such cases by themselves, but should consult legal and criminal experts to conduct investigations and advise bishops. All too often, offending priests have manipulated and lied to their superiors, he said.

But until now the Vatican has not embraced the notion of lay-review boards for pedophilia investigations, reaffirming bishops as the first arbiter in these cases. Last May, the Vatican, through its Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, called on bishops’ conferences worldwide to draft policies on the issue within the year.

Terence McKiernan, president of BishopAccountability.org , said the conference was intended to “change the subject and look like progress.”

“The Vatican is afraid, and it has reason to be,” he said, in light of recent charges against the church, including a complaint filed against the Vatican with the International Criminal Court.

As cases of abuse prominently emerged in North America and several European countries over the past decade, the church was often slow and clumsy in its reactions. The fallout pushed the Vatican to adopt new responses, including the symposium.

Marie Collins, who was abused by a priest while a patient in a Dublin children’s hospital when she was 13, told the delegates on Tuesday that even though many priests had been brought to justice for their crimes, the church needed to acknowledge the responsibility of their superiors. In many cases, she said, they covered up or mishandled cases.

“I can forgive my abuser for his actions; he has admitted his guilt,” she said. “But how do I regain my respect for the leadership of the church? There must be acknowledgment and accountability.”

It’s an interesting turn of events. I’m not sure I want to say that the church should leave it up to the legal system entirely with regards to priests and others who have abused children while representing the church. I’m not sure that they would receive a fair day in court, even if guilty. But I would laud the advice to listen to those who have been victimized. They can help immensely in preventing this from continuing and furthermore, they are owed as much by the church. It’s the least we can do.

At the height of the abuse cases, I attended a listening session at a local parish. The auxiliary Bishop who led the session and who was very open in listening was battered and bruised by the end of the session. It seemed unfair to me for him to have to take the brunt of this and when the session was over, I walked up to him and asked if he was OK. And he appreciated my thought. He also knew that he needed to take a few lumps for the team, even if he had done nothing wrong personally.

It seems to me that the church could use some legal help as they are not lawyers, but we also need to be assured that all heal from this cycle of abuse that was allowed to be perpetuated. Psychological assistance for priests who have to care for people, apologize to victims and help in healing these wounds should also be addressed.

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