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Gerard O’ConnellMarch 14, 2023
Boston Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley, president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, poses for a photo in Asunción, Paraguay, March 13, 2023, after inaugurating the Center for Studies on Human Dignity and Prevention of Abuse at the Catholic University of Asunción. (CNS photo/Courtesy of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors)

Pope Francis has again emphasized the importance that all the local churches fully implement the norms to protect minors and combat sexual abuse in the church that he issued in the 2019 decree “Vos Estis Lux Mundi.” He did so today in a message to participants at the second Latin American Congress on the prevention of abuse that is being held in Asunción, the capital of Paraguay, March 14 to 16.

“Your work in favor of protection of the most vulnerable is urgent and essential,” he said.

Pope Francis told the Latin American church leaders, “Anyone who lessens the impact of this history or minimizes the current danger dishonors those who have suffered so much and deceives those they claim to serve.”

The pope is aware that bishops in many dioceses across Latin America have not yet put in place the new procedural norms and relevant structures to combat sexual abuse and to hold bishops and religious superiors accountable as outlined in “Vos Estis,” which was promulgated on May 9, 2019.

Pope Francis: “Anyone who lessens the impact of this history or minimizes the current danger dishonors those who have suffered so much and deceives those they claim to serve.”

“The work of establishing clear procedures for the protection of minors in the Church needs to become a priority in every local church,” Francis stated. He told them that he has asked the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors “to supervise the adequate implementation of Vos Estis Lux Mundi so that those who are abused have clear and accessible pathways for seeking justice.”

Aware that many dioceses lack the resources to implement “Vos Estis,” Francis said: “Those parts of the Church where efforts at promoting adequate prevention measures are still in the early stages because of a lack of resources need special attention. The cruel inequalities that plague our societies must not be allowed to plague our Church!”

Francis told the congress that he has also asked the Pontifical Commission “to oversee and verify the adequacy of sound policies and practices throughout the Church and to compile a report pointing to where improvements are still needed.”

This is the second Latin American conference on safeguarding children and vulnerable adults; the first was held in Mexico in November 2019. It is organized by the bishops’ conference of Paraguay, the Catholic University of Paraguay, the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, and Ceprome, the center for child protection at Mexico’s Pontifical University.

“Those parts of the Church where efforts at promoting adequate prevention measures are still in the early stages because of a lack of resources need special attention.”

Participants included Cardinal Adalaberto Martinez, the president of the Paraguay bishops’ conference; Cardinal Seán O’Malley, president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors; and Hans Zollner, S.J., a leading expert on sexual abuse and the director of the Gregorian University’s Institute of Anthropology, Interdisciplinary Studies on Human Dignity and Care. Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, the adjunct secretary of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith and president of its tribunal for appeals, addressed the gathering by Zoom.

In his message, Pope Francis recalled the February 2019 world meeting of bishops and religious superiors held at the Vatican “to address the growing problem of the mishandling of child sexual abuse by the church hierarchy.” He told the congress that “sexual abuse by clergy and its cover up by bishops and religious superiors” was both “a violation and betrayal” and “has left an indelible wound on the body of Christ, the Church, because of the harm done to so many people.”

“Sexual abuse by anyone in the Church, whenever it took place, is a clear and present danger to the well-being of God’s people and its mishandling will continue to debase the Gospel of the Lord in the eyes of everyone,” the pope said.

He acknowledged that “much has been done by Church leaders to confront this evil and to prevent it from recurring.” He hailed the conference as “a further expression of this desire for change in our Church” and “an expression of the synodal process of encounter, listening, reflecting and helping each other as we seek to implement and measure our commitment to preventing abuse in our Church.”

He applauded the establishment of a new Study Center for Human Dignity and the Prevention of Abuse, which will be a national focal point for this purpose in the capital city of Paraguay. He encouraged them to continue on this road and said, “we must be able to see the results that children are safer in our Church.”

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