“We cannot repair what we do not recognize. We cannot restore a broken trust if we do not address the heart of the matter. This requires honest investigation, independent inquiry, and informed action.”
The President of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors marked the European Day on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse, November 18th, with a message to Prof Ernesto Caffo, Tutela Minorum member and President of Italy’s child line Telefono Azzurro who hosted an International Symposium
titled: “The right to trust. The challenge of securing the relationship of children and adolescents with trusted adults”.
Below the text of his message:
“On behalf of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors I send my greetings to Prof. Ernesto Caffo, President of Telefono Azzurro and the honored guests and participants who have gathered today in person and online to mark the European Day on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse, which this year focuses on “Making the circle of trust truly safe for children”.
Since its inception in 2015, the Council of Europe initiative has provided a forum to bring civil society, and governments together to focus and better align vital resources and heighten awareness of the problem of child sexual exploitation and abuse (CSEA).
We know that Child Sex Abuse is a global, human problem. The World Health Organization that one in five women, and one in thirteen men report experiencing sexual abuse before their 18th birthday; and that at least sixty percent of child sexual abuse victims/survivors never disclose their abuse.
The most recent data that we have received on the scope of Child Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church, is no less grim. In France, the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church (CIASE) estimated 216 000 children suffered sexual abuse in the Church from in the period from 1950 to 2020. In Australia 40% of the child sexual abuse that took place in the period under review of the Royal Commission of Inquiry occurred in an area related to the Catholic Church.
These are astounding statistics. But we cannot allow our reaction to them to obscure their purpose: To assess the measures taken by the Church to treat this scourge; and to make all useful recommendations for the transformation of a failed system based on a quantitative and qualitative level.
We cannot repair what we do not recognize. We cannot restore a broken trust if we do not address the heart of the matter. This requires honest investigation, independent inquiry, and informed action.
As a Church we must be open to learning from the advances of civil society and academia in terms of scientific models of research for a more informed approach to our prevention strategies and protection polices, on the ground and online.
Learning from each other, we can become a Church and a society that puts the protection of children among the highest priorities. This requires investment in creating relationships of trust and cross-institutional support.
The Holy Father and our Commission are convinced that the victims and survivors of child sexual abuse hold the key to helping us implement meaningful and effective policies and procedures. In his letter to the People of God in 2018, Pope Francis noted “as time goes on, we have come to know the pain of many of the victims” and that the wounds they bear “never go away.”
This November 18th, the Church in Italy has instituted the 1st National Day of Prayer for Victims and Survivors. The Day was established by Pope Francis through the commitment of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors as a public and visible recognition of victims of clerical sexual abuse and to promote awareness among all the baptized faithful, and non-believers as desired by the Holy Father in his Letter to the People of God (2018)3.
In solidarity with the Holy Father’s initiative, on November 18th in Baltimore I will be walking in silent communion of prayer with adult survivors of child sexual abuse, their advocates, brother bishops, faith leaders of many denominations and representatives of civil society.
As the sun rises over the city waterfront, we will gather as a global collective in recognition of our commitment – religions and civil society – to walk with survivors on a lifelong journey of healing for us all.
With the assurance of my continued prayers,
Card. Seán O’ Malley OFM Cap.