Cardinal William Joseph Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, delivered a lecture before the international symposium "Towards Healing and Renewal" being held in Rome's Gregorian University, February 6-9. The event brings together bishops and religious superiors from all over the world and aims to relaunch the Church's commitment to protecting minors and vulnerable people from abuse.
Cardinal Levada affirmed that for Church leaders the question under examination "is both delicate and urgent". It is "important not to lose sight of the gravity of these crimes" as we seek "to form the priests of today and tomorrow to be aware of this scourge and to eliminate it from the priesthood".
Cardinal Levada recalled how Blessed John Paul II's Motu Proprio "Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela" clarified and updated the list of canonical crimes, explicitly including the sexual abuse of minors by clerics as one of the most serious crimes, or "graviora delicta". Benedict XVI, then prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, "was instrumental in implementing these new norms" and supported "approving the Essential Norms for the United States". In 2010 Pope Benedict also approved and ordered the promulgation of stricter revised norms.
"In an effort to aid the Church universal to adopt appropriate measures ... the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a circular letter to assist episcopal conferences in developing guidelines for dealing with cases of sexual abuse of minors perpetrated by clerics". That letter, dated 2011, calls for standards to evaluate the suitability of clergy and other persons who minister in Church institutions and agencies; and for education programmes to be set up for families and Church communities to ensure the protection of children and young people.
"For many if not most victims a first need is to be heard, to know that the Church listens to their stories of abuse, that the Church understands the gravity of what they have suffered, that she wants to accompany them on the often long path of healing, and that she has taken or is willing to take effective steps to ensure that other children will be protected from such abuse", Cardinal Levada said. In this context he also noted the example set by the Holy Father in meeting with abuse victims during his apostolic trips.
The prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith reiterated the fact that bishops and religious superiors must "exercise even greater scrutiny in accepting candidates for the priesthood and religious life, as well as providing formation programmes that provide the necessary foundational human formation, including appropriate formation in human sexuality".
"Certainly no less important than any of the other elements, the cooperation of the Church with civil authorities in these cases recognises the fundamental truth that the sexual abuse of minors is not only a crime in canon law, but is also a crime that violates criminal laws in most civil jurisdictions. ... The Church has an obligation to cooperate with the requirements of civil law regarding the reporting of such crimes to the appropriate authorities".
At the end of his address, Cardinal Levada expressed the hope that the symposium would be "a source of expertise and hope for those who seek to eliminate the scourge of sexual abuse of minors from society at large".