A Vincentian Views the Abuse Synod

by | Mar 1, 2019 | Formation, Reflections, Spirituality and Spiritual Practice | 1 comment

In a reflection that first appeared on the website of the Eastern Province of the Congregation of the Mission, “The Abuse Synod – A Tale of Two Meetings,” I offered one Vincentian’s view of the “Abuse Synod.” While this has not been my main ministry, Providence has placed me in a wide variety of abuse-related situations.

Photo by Dimitri de Vries on Unsplash

Background for my reflections

When I was first ordained over 50 years ago “sexual abuse” was not in my vocabulary. I was totally naive about so many issues. I discovered relatively quickly a pain-filled world. Possibly because of my post-ordination training as a professional marriage therapist at a secular university, I have had direct ministerial involvement with a wide cross-section of people connected with abuse.

Over at least 40 of my 50 years as a priest, I have walked with victims and abusers. Many of the victims I have worked with were just beginning to deal with abuse that occurred much earlier in their lives. Some were victims of abuse by priests, others were victims within their own families. I have been horrified by abusers who to this day show no real understanding of what they have done. I have been edified by those who are constructively coping with their guilt and shame and life-long consequence of their actions for themselves and their victims.

Over the years I have been increasingly baffled and angered by what seemed to be an institutional, and societal, knee-jerk reaction to deny, scape-goat and self-protectively cover up out of fear of scandal or financial consequences. It has taken me a while to understand that to this day there is so much we do not understand about this phenomenon. All this brings me to:

A Tale of Two Meetings – World Youth Day, Abuse Synod

Two World Youth Days?

There was the first tale of the recent World Youth Day. This was the one that appeared in international media focusing mainly on what was said related to hot button issues of their home country.
The other tale of World Youth Day took place in the minds and hearts of the people who were present and impacted by the experience. In a clear case of under-reporting, the stories from the participants themselves focused on the impact their experience had on them. These stories spoke of life-changing impacts.

Two Abuse Synods?

Let me say something up front. As I read the media reports of the recent meeting of the world’s Bishops  I was disappointed and frustrated. However, there was part of me that has wondered whether there were two Abuse Synods.The reporting on the one synod features all the things that did not happen at the Synod. Perhaps these could come under the heading of first reactions. In what might be the beginning of a more considered analysis, we might have second thoughts or a view of the synod from within the Synod.

A recent edition of La Croix, a highly respected international and independent Catholic daily, provides food for thought. (See below)

What happened in the minds and hearts of the participants and why

Here are some quotes from this series of articles.

Changing mindsets and Culture

In an achievement that would have been impossible just a few short years ago, Pope Francis has succeeded in his efforts to develop a much greater level of awareness among the world’s bishops, many of whom who were a long way from sharing his vision.

The pope is convinced that processes are more important than blunt decisions. And through patience he has been able to change the collective state of mind in the space of a few short days

The bishops’ growing awareness of their common responsibility for abuse and its management should now enable the Church to make much more orderly progress both against abuse and cover ups

Child abuse at the Global level

Personal accounts of survivors impacted mindsets

Archbishop Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg said, “I had to close my eyes, they were filled with tears,” adding, “it is absolutely necessary that we listen to these accounts.”

The President of Bishops of the European Union said that watching and listening to participants, he had witnessed a gradual evolution and improvement, thanks to the personal testimony given by survivors. “Bishops are changing. I can feel it in the way we are sharing and talking to one another,” he said.

Video statements by Bishops of the impact of victim testimonies

The Impact of Women

Women, though only few in number, also played a major part in what happened these last days in Rome.

There were only 9 major presentations to the entire assembly. Women gave three of them. Two of these women were mothers. One of the three represented women religious in Africa where there is a strong current of denial.

Each of these women offered serious challenges, See also Crux: Women who took star turns at Pope Francis’s recent summit

See more on each of the speakers.

Significant actions to come

In his post-meeting review Fr. Frederico Lombardi revealed some immediate actions. I expect these to have a powerful impact on turning around the ocean liner of clericalism.

  • A new Motu Proprio from the Pope “on the protection of minors and vulnerable persons”
  • A Vademecum to help bishops around the world clearly understand their duties and tasks
  • Creation of task forces of competent persons to help episcopal conferences and dioceses that find it difficult to confront the problems and produce initiatives for the protection of minors

My informal translation of the above

  • A motu proprio is usually when the pope wants to change or enact church rules on his own initiative.
  • A vademecum is a guidebook for getting things done. (One of the issues here is the complex relationship between civil and church law in various countries.)
  • Task forces of competent lay persons charged with assisting  local churches in actually getting things done. (This process was set in motion the Monday after the meeting ended!)

Time will tell!

See also a previous post “The McCarrick Situation”

La Croix (subscription required beyond limited number of articles each month)

In our continuing coverage of this historic event, La Croix‘s Rome correspondent Nicholas Senèze offers his analysis of the “abuse summit” and why it marks a monumental shift for the Church.

In another article, we explain how the four-day gathering inside the Synod Hall at the Vatican changed the hearts and minds of some of the more reticent bishops.

One of the major reasons for that was the testimony offered by abuse victims, both inside the hall and on the sidelines of the summit.

Another was the prophetic and powerful voice of women who, though only few in number, also played a major part in what happened these last days in Rome. We have reports on those aspects as well.


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