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Dear Pope: Happy New Year

I was encouraged in early December by your announcement that you are convening a Vatican Commission on Child Sexual Abuse to help you address the needs of victims and the structural changes that must take place in order to avoid repeating the past. This seemed like an appropriate Advent effort coinciding with the new church year and the nativity of Jesus. While this planned Vatican Commission falls somewhat short of the call by Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, retired Bishop from Sydney, Australia, for a Vatican Council to address the child abuse tragedy (For Christ’s Sake: End Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church...for Good), it is a step in the right direction.

Dear Pope Francis:

I was encouraged in early December by your announcement that you are convening a Vatican Commission on Child Sexual Abuse to help you address the needs of victims and the structural changes that must take place in order to avoid repeating the past. This seemed like an appropriate Advent effort coinciding with the new church year and the nativity of Jesus. While this planned Vatican Commission falls somewhat short of the call by Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, retired Bishop from Sydney, Australia, for a Vatican Council to address the child abuse tragedy (For Christ’s Sake: End Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church...for Good), it is a step in the right direction.

The Christmas season is over and as the new year begins, we await concrete action to support the announcement of this Commission. Survivors and their communities are eager for answers and real change. Recently, you and the Vatican were called to account by a committee on human rights of the United Nations. Finally here was a public venue where the Vatican was forced to respond:

UN experts interrogated The Holy See for eight hours on Thursday about the scale of abuse and what it was doing to prevent it, marking the first time the Vatican had been forced to defend its record at length or in public...

The Vatican was compelled to appear before the committee as a signatory to the UN Convention for the Rights of the Child, which among other things calls for governments to take all adequate measures to protect children from harm and ensure their interests are placed above all else.

Your representatives, Monsignor Charles Scicluna, the Vatican’s former sex crimes prosecutor, and Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican’s UN ambassador in Geneva, faced very tough questions from the committee. The panelists were independent experts who asked pointed questions. They have seen the reports that document the handling of abuse cases and are not impressed by obfuscation. The UN committee will report back with recommendations in early February. Although they have no power to sanction the Vatican, they can shine further light and hopefully help to frame the Vatican Commission’s task ahead. I urge you to seriously consider their report and recommendations. If you are serious about addressing child sexual abuse, these can be a great help in focusing your Commission’s efforts.

There is one critical area raised in the UN Committee discussion that I believe has to be addressed: The Vatican continues to do the dance it has always done, insisting it has little jurisdiction to sanction pedophile priests.“Priests are not functionaries of the Vatican,” Archbishop Silvano Tomasi told the committee. “Priests are citizens of their own states, and they fall under the jurisdiction of their own country.” Yet historically, local Bishops have been encouraged to shield their priests from the legal consequences of their criminal sexual abuse.

Also the Vatican does not seem to have any problem with its jurisdiction over its priests when the priests are speaking out in support of same sex marriage or women’s ordination. Yet here, in the face of criminal misconduct and doing harm to vulnerable children, Vatican representatives persist in the “it’s not my job” excuse for inaction.

These contradictions continue to undermine the credibility of your stated commitment to address child sexual abuse.

So finally, I am wondering: who will you appoint to the Vatican Commission on Child Sexual Abuse? Will you include experts in the field of child sexual abuse? Will you include Catholic survivors whose voices are critical to achieve real progress and who have been making their faithful witness, calling on the church to be the church, for years? Will you include any of us from other faith traditions who have been working on these issues for years and could provide a valuable outside perspective?

As always, I stand ready to assist you as my brother in Christ. Call me.

Your sister in Christ,

Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune
www.faithtrustinstitute.org
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Happy New Year

Posted by Marvin Eckfeldt at Feb 02, 2014 08:26 PM
Great post, Marie. As always: direct, focused, helpful and potentially beneficial. Frances can get your number, I hope we calls!

Letter to the Pope

Posted by Emma Justes at Feb 02, 2014 08:26 PM
Marie,
Your letter is right on target as you point out how the Vatican claims jurisdiction in some areas and then denies it in the area of child sexual abuse. Truly a valid point. I have been very impressed with Pope Francis in many ways and here is where he needs to really show leadership of the church. Thank you for your wise and clear message to him for the sake of so many of us.

Emma