AUSTRALIA’S Truth, Justice and Healing Council (TJHC) has welcomed comments by Pope Francis calling on the Catholic Church to “act decisively” against child sexual abuse within the Church.
The Pope, on April 5, said the Church must promote measures to protect young people, help victims and follow due process to ensure the guilty are punished.
TJHC chief executive officer Francis Sullivan said the comments reinforced the way the Church in Australia was responding to the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse.
The TJHC is overseeing the Church’s engagement with the Royal Commission and the development of new policies and procedures to protect children in the future.
“The Pope’s message is consistent with the way the Church in Australia intends to engage with the commission,” Mr Sullivan said.
“It is also in line with the Australian Church’s drive to develop new consistent policies and procedures to protect children in the future.
“The Church in Australia now needs to be judged on its actions rather than its words.
“The Church must face up to the way it has responded to the victims of child sexual abuse, identify the things it must do better and provide comfort, healing and compensation.”
The TJHC has been established by the two overarching Catholic Church organisations, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and Catholic Religious Australia which represent dioceses and congregations across Australia.
The Catholic News Service reported that Pope Francis reaffirmed the importance of responding decisively to the problem of the sexual abuse of minors by members of the clergy and called on the office dealing with suspected cases to continue carrying out its mandate.
During an April 5 meeting with prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Archbishop Gerhard Muller, the Pope discussed the office’s various responsibilities.
However, he made a particular point of highlighting its work to counter clerical sexual abuse, telling Archbishop Muller he wanted the congregation to continue with the policies of retired Pope Benedict XVI and “to act decisively concerning cases of sexual abuse”, the Holy See said in a written statement released after the meeting.
The Pope, the statement said, asked the congregation to continue: “promoting measures that protect minors, above all; help for those who have suffered such violence in the past; necessary procedures against those found guilty; (and) the commitment of bishops’ conferences in formulating and implementing the necessary directives in this area that is so important for the Church’s witness and credibility”.
The Pope also assured victims that they had a special place in his heart and prayers.
Pope Francis was holding private meetings in early April with the individual heads of various Vatican offices and congregations.
As Archbishop of Buenos Aires, the future pope had said his archdiocese had been very attentive to the problem and “rigorous” in its screening and selection of candidates for the priesthood and religious life.
Sex abusers suffered from a “perversion of a psychological kind” that was not caused by or directly linked to celibacy, he said in a book-length series of interviews.
“If a priest is a paedophile, he is so because he brought that perversion with him from before his ordination”, and not even priestly celibacy would be able to “cure it”, the future pope said in the book, Pope Francis: Conversations with Jorge Bergoglio, by Sergio Rubin and Francesca Ambrogetti.
Because such a perversion already would be present in a candidate, he said, “it’s necessary to pay lots of attention to the choice of candidates to the priesthood”.
He said the archdiocese of Buenos Aires had been very “rigorous for many years already”, and he described how candidates underwent in-depth psychiatric tests to look for different forms of deviant tendencies, including “megalomaniacal, dishonest and criminal” tendencies.
In On Heaven and Earth, a 2010 book of conversations with a Buenos Aires rabbi, the then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio said, when it was discovered that a priest had engaged in such behaviour, it was imperative that no one “look the other way”.
The future Pope Francis said mov-ing an abusive priest to another parish in an effort to protect the image of the Church had appeared as a “solution” at times in the United States, but that it was “foolishness” because the abusive priest only took his problem with him to a new parish.
He said he admired “the courage and honesty of Benedict XVI” in confronting the problem, calling for “zero tolerance” and enacting stricter measures to protect children and to punish abusers.