By Christopher White, The Tablet’s National Correspondent
ROME – Church leaders were warned not to blame the outside world for the Church’s abuse crisis and that “the enemy is within.”
In delivering his afternoon remarks at the pope’s closely watched abuse summit taking place at the Vatican this week, Cardinal Rubén Salazar Gómez of Bogotà, Colombia, and President of the Latin American Episcopal Council (CELAM), said “the damage is not done by outsiders but that the first enemies are within us, among us bishops and priests and consecrated persons who have not lived up to our vocation.”
Echoing a common theme from Pope Francis on this issue, Cardinal Salazar pinpointed clericalism as the root cause, leading to a “distortion of the meaning of ministry,” which he said had heightened the severity of the crisis.
“A clerical mentality that leads us to misunderstand the institution of the Church and place it above the suffering of the victims and the demands of justice,” he said. “This mentality accepts the justifications of the perpetrators over the testimony of those affected.”
During his remarks, the South American cardinal urged for “conversion” to replace a clerical culture in the Church, which has led to abusive priests being transferred around to other assignments instead of properly being punished and using monetary settlements to “buy silence” from victims.
Cardinal Salazar’s remarks were titled “The Church in a moment of crisis: Facing conflicts and tensions and acting decisively,” and he used them, to among other things, call for a new “code of conduct” for bishops as a “concrete” means of reform and heightened attention to screening candidates for the priesthood and renewed attention to priestly formation.
He also urged that the bishop must remain close to the accused so that due process is granted and proper treatment is provided.
The cardinal said that for Catholics and non-Catholics alike, priests and consecrated men and women are closely identified with the Church, and therefore, they must be close to “God’s faithful holy people.”
“Our first duty is to listen to them,” he said. “One of the first sins committed at the beginning of the crisis was precisely not having listened with open hearts to those who charged that they had been abused by clerics.”
He also called out the tendency among Church officials to point out that abuse is a widespread problem not particular to the Church.
“The fact that abuses occur in other institutions and groups can never justify the occurrence of abuses in the Church, because it contradicts the very essence of the ecclesial community and constitutes a monstrous distortion of the priestly ministry which, by its very nature, must seek the good of souls as its supreme end,” he said. “There is no possible justification for not denouncing, not unmasking, not courageously and forcefully confronting any abuse that presents itself within our Church.”
He also challenged bishops for sometimes accusing victims for coming forward only to seek financial compensation, and said the Church must own up to the “serious and grave responsibility for the redress and compensation of victims.”
Cardinal Salazar went on to acknowledge the media, who he said have played an important role in exposing abuse within the Church, offering his “heartfelt thanks.”
In concluding his remarks, Cardinal Salazar turned to the words from Pope John Paul II when he spoke to American cardinals in 2002, when they were called to Rome to confront the mounting crisis in the United States.
“So much pain, so much sorrow must lead to a holier priesthood, a holier episcopate, and a holier Church,” he said.
He echoed that call for a reformed, holier priesthood, calling for “holier bishops, more aware of their mission as pastors and fathers of the flock.”
The pope’s summit on sex abuse will continue on Friday, Feb.22, with a focus on accountability with addresses by Cardinal Oswald Gracias of India, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, and Linda Ghisoni of the Vatican’s office for laity, family, and life.
The meeting will conclude on Sunday with a final Mass and a closing speech by Pope Francis.