VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The Roman Catholic Church has sometimes been in denial over the sexual abuse of children by clergy but must now move forward to face up to the scandal, the Vatican’s top official for the issue said on Friday.
In an interview with Reuters Television, Monsignor Charles Scicluna said he hoped a major symposium on pedophilia to be held next week in Rome would encourage Church leaders from around the world to listen more to the victims.
“Denial is a very primitive way of coping with very sad things,” said Scicluna, whose formal title is Justice Promoter.
“I don’t think that denial will ever be a good response. I will not deny that we have been in denial. I think that people know that. But people need to know that we have to move forward from that very primitive coping mechanism. It doesn’t work,” he said.
The four-day symposium next week at the Jesuit Pontifical Gregorian University, called “Towards Healing and Renewal,” will bring together some 200 people including bishops, leaders of religious orders, victims of abuse and psychologists.
The participants will discuss how the worldwide Church can become more aware of the problem, make a commitment to listen to victims and prevent future cases of abuse. Scicluna said the symposium would stress that this “was not only a sin but a crime.”
“I think that sharing the same hurt, suffering, anger, and at times frustration, is also a very important step in taking a determined outlook and determined standpoint, which can be also a good and beneficial example to others,” he said.
The Vatican has for years been struggling to control the damage that sexual abuse scandals in the United States and several European countries, including Pope Benedict’s native Germany, have done to the Church’s image.
Groups representing abuse victims say the Church must do more to own up to the past, when known pedophile priests were shuttled from parish to parish instead of being defrocked or turned over to authorities. It must also make greater efforts to prevent future cases, they say, accusing the Church and the Vatican of a cover-up.
Scicluna said the Church had sent out “a very clear message” that bishops must follow civil law on pedophilia cases.
“Jurisdictions differ concerning the way that you report crime. When crime has happened and the civil authorities justifiably ask for cooperation and request cooperation, the church cannot decline that cooperation. Concerning reporting mechanisms, our strong advice is to follow the law of the country concerned,” he said.
At the symposium, the Church will unveil ways it plans to turn to the Internet with a new e-learning centre to help safeguard children and the victims of molestation.
The learning centre will work with medical institutions and universities to develop what the Church hopes will be a constant response to the problems of sexual abuse.
It will be posted in German, English, French, Spanish and Italian and help bishops and other church workers put into place Vatican guidelines to protect children.
“It’s a mechanism that will keep religious leaders all over the world informed, up to date on the latest developments, research and science. It could also develop as a way of keeping in contact and also moving forward with the same determination that is being expressed in this symposium for the future,” he said.
Scicluna said the Church had to learn to listen more to victims of abuse in order to understand the full extent of the problem. It was important that victims would be addressing the symposium.
“Part of the healing process is to listen to the people concerned. We have listened to the clergy who have committed crimes, we need to listen more to the victims because this is the way we will also be able to prevent crime in the future,” he said.
Last April, the Vatican sent a directive to all bishops telling them they must make it a global priority to root out sexual abuse of children by priests.
It told the bishops that each diocese must draw up guidelines, based on a global approach but conforming to local criminal law.
Scicluna said the Church will probably never outlive the scandal.
“I don’t think this is a problem we will ever have behind us. I think this is a challenge that will always be with us. The more important thing is to act on prevention, especially with information that can empower leaders and communities to respond to any danger, or any mishap in an adequate way,” he said.
Reporting By Philip Pullella; editing by Barry Moody