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Clerical Sex Abuse Conference called by Pope Francis with heads of Bishops Conferences

December 30, 2018

Clerical Sex Abuse Conference called by Pope Francis with heads of Bishops Conferences

We have been in communication with Fr. Hans Zollner, a Jesuit priest, a German theologian and psychologist, and one of the leading experts on sexual abuse working in the Catholic Church. He is one of the planners for the February summit called by Pope Francis with heads of all the Bishops' Conferences worldwide to address the issue of the Sex Abuse Crisis. Fr. Zollner has invited us to provide input to the organizing committee. This is our opportunity to have direct involvement in this critical gathering. We have drafted the letter below and would appreciate your support by sending this letter on to your bishop and local media.

An Open Letter to Fr. Hans Zollner and the Planning Committee for the February Summit called by Francis

Dear Fr Zollner:

Thank you for your kind email of 23 December 2018 asking for a brief summary of our suggestions for what should be on the agenda of the February summit. Here are our proposals for consideration:

A universal safeguarding policy be implemented across all Church entities worldwide, including care of victims.

This policy should be aligned with Pope Francis's promised "zero tolerance" policy, with both transparency and due process. An accountability policy established for all church leaders in regard to the handling of cases of the abuse of minors and vulnerable adults, in terms that are clear and un-ambiguous, and which give priority to the dignity of victims. Further changes to canon law discerned beyond those set forth in the Apostolic Letter "As a Loving Mother," to facilitate all necessary provisions for safeguarding and accountability.

The structure of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors be reevaluated in order to make it more effective in pursuing policy reforms. We agree with Marie Collins that it must "reassert its independence from the Vatican's bureaucracy, to oversee implementation of its own recommendations."

Needs clarity and transparency over the purpose and objectives of this four-year-old group. Needs to meet personally and regularly with Francis. Should be refashioned so that it is led by a layperson. Has a guaranteed budget to do its work.

Establish an independent Tribunal with a majority of lay experts to examine accusations of abuse cover-ups by bishops, cardinals and the pope. To avoid having the foxes watch their own hen houses, this should replace the four Vatican offices currently overseeing such allegations.

Each bishop throughout the world be required to hold diocesan pastoral councils, and diocesan assemblies with deanery and parish listening sessions for the purpose of making the Church more synodal.

Structures and practices provided that more adequately and more fully encompass participation of the people. Pastoral plans and annual diocesan reports to be published in an appropriate diocesan publication available to the entire diocese.

There must be reform of church governance based on Gospel values and Catholic Social teachings. To recover the trust that has been lost by the clerical sex abuse crisis, this restructuring must replace the clericalist culture with servant leadership and engagement with the faithful.

If it is true, according to Catholic teaching, that all persons have been created with equal dignity in the image of God, then church structures must reflect this reality. Primary consideration be acknowledged for the rights and responsibilities of the baptized to have a voice of influence in the decision-making of our Church. New order of the church to include accountability, transparency, and inclusiveness. Inclusion of qualified lay women and men serving in top decision-making positions throughout all levels of the church from parishes to diocesan positions, to the curia itself. Women be considered for serving in all areas of ministry in the Church. Immediate reform of bishop selection processes, fully including the faithful identifying the needs in each diocese, selecting and electing suitable candidates, and local selection criteria. Reinstatement of the principle of subsidiarity in parish councils, diocesan pastoral councils, and national conferences of bishops

Considerations be given to the victims and their families:

Civil reporting of abuse be legislated. Ensure effective discipline of perpetrators. Confidentiality, or "Pontifical Secret" policy not to apply to abuse and cover-ups of abuse. All letters sent to the Vatican by abuse survivors receive a response. End Vatican norms setting the statute of limitations in abuse cases to 20 years after the victim's 18th birthday. Reconcile publicly and fully with all the persons abused, their families and communities, and commit to just redress.The penitent must be informed that meaningful reconciliation with victims must occur, when possible, before absolution is possible.

The deeper issues behind this crisis must be addressed:

Introduction of new structures for decision-making in the Roman Catholic Church with all the people of God acknowledge as having a deliberative voice in the governance of the Church and selection & election of bishops. Eradication of the culture of clericalism replacing it with the full participation of the faith community, which is in accordance with the Gospel, the tradition of the early Church, and the vision of Vatican II. Priestly celibacy made optional Remodel priestly formation, including ongoing development, assessment and registration.

In your deliberations, we urge you to make the laity an involved and equal partner in any and all solutions to the sexual abuse crisis. This should include victims/survivors of sexual abuse, family members (parents, siblings, husbands, wives, partners, children) of those abused, and representatives of support groups of those abused. In the follow-up plans, the Faithful's counsel should be sought regarding (1) concrete decisions to be reached and implemented, and (2) a continuing role established for lay participation in local tribunals set up for clerical sexual abuse and beyond.

We ask you to consider placing all these points on the agenda for the February 2019 conference.

Blessings and good wishes,
Rene Reid, Director
On behalf of Catholic Church Reform Int'l

cc: Cardinal Blase Cupich, U.S.A.
Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai, India
Archbishop Charles J. Scicluna of Malta